An Iowa City child care experiment, an immigration story and a new all-women memory care unit
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Good morning and happy Monday! Here’s what’s on deck in this week’s edition of Fearless:

All that and more below! Have a great week.

– Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

Would a $4/hour pay increase for child care workers reduce attrition rates in the industry? Yes, according to one experiment in Iowa City
Three members of first Idea Accelerator Iowa City cohort study child care workforce crisis
From left: Jeanie Wade-Nagle, Lara Marsh and Nancy Gardner. Photo by Emily Kestel.
What would Iowa child care workers gain if they received a $4 an hour pay increase?

Several things, three Iowa City women found. Breathing room. Ease of mind. A weight off their shoulders. A feeling of validation that child care is a profession.

Jeanie Wade-Nagle, Nancy Gardner and Lara Marsh discovered those themes and others after conducting a short-term experiment through the Idea Accelerator program. As part of the program, the women - all with an interest in the child-care industry - examined how much a $4 per hour basic pay increase to child care employees would affect attrition rates in the area.

The problem

Iowa City is not immune to the barriers of affordability and availability that plague the child care industry across the state and country. Johnson County has some of the most expensive child care rates in the state. Last year, the average cost to send a toddler to a child care provider was between $162 and $250 per week – or roughly $8,500 to $13,000 annually.

Furthermore, an Iowa child care worker earning the median hourly wage of $13.85 is barely making the wage needed to cover basic living expenses.

But unless they receive outside funding, the only way child care directors can raise wages for their staff is by increasing tuition costs, further burdening parents already paying an average of 12% of their income on child care (40% if they’re a single parent).

The idea

Wade-Nagle expressed frustration about the pace of progress on addressing the child care crisis. While she acknowledged that many groups worked on the child care issue for years, something different needed to be done, she said.

"We need to do something that can show a change faster. Some of the solutions that the Legislature is coming up with aren’t satisfactory to me," Wade-Nagle said. "Putting more kids together and putting them with younger kids … is not the solution, from my vantage point."

Marsh encouraged the three of them to apply to the Idea Accelerator program to explore their ideas. The 90-day program is a partnership with the Iowa City Area Development Group, Heartland Forward, and Builders and Backers that’s focused on finding creative solutions to community problems.

Wade-Nagle, Gardner and Marsh chose to focus their efforts on exploring factors that push child care workers out of the industry, particularly around the idea of wages. After talking with several "builders in residence" within the program, they decided to put their $5,000 to use by giving it directly to child care workers through $4 per hour pay increases.

The experiment

Kayla Jordan is the director of Loving Arms Kids Care. The center has capacity for 121 kids from birth to age 12, but with a staff of eight full-time and 15 part-time employees, the center has about 70 youngsters. If she could hire and retain a consistent number of staff members, she could accept more kids.

But staff turnover is constant, she said. Starting wages prior to the experiment were between $10.75 and $14 for full-time teachers at Loving Arms Kids Care, which is below the wage needed to afford basic living expenses in the current economy.

Jordan was leery when she  was approached by Wade-Nagle, Marsh and Gardner about giving full-time staff a $4 per hour pay increase for four weeks, no strings attached.

"At first I thought it was too good to be true," she said. "Child care workers don’t get a lot of support."

After getting approval from the Loving Arms Kids Care board, Wade-Nagle, Marsh and Gardner conducted a brief anonymous survey of the eight staff members, including Jordan, before they knew they would receive a temporary pay increase.

In addition to demographic questions, they asked the child care staff members their family’s financial situation, how long they’ve worked at the center, how long they envisioned themselves working there, what factors would make them seek a position elsewhere, how satisfied they were with their wages and what they would spend an extra $4 an hour on.

After completing the survey, Wade-Nagle, Marsh and Gardner worked with Jordan to disperse prepaid Visa gift cards loaded with the $4 per hour pay increase along with their regular paychecks every two weeks for a month. They also conducted a post-experiment survey with the same questions.

The results

Elise, who declined to share her last name, has worked in the field of child care for more than 20 years at various child care centers. She was making $13.50 an hour when she began working at Loving Arms Kids Care in February.

Elise said the $4 per hour experimental increase was "amazing." She didn’t put it toward bills because doing so would create more hassle with temporarily changing forms of payment for autopay accounts, she said. Instead, she spent it on things like a new pair of jeans, better paper towels, and food brands she wouldn’t normally be able to buy.

Elise said child care workers just want to be paid enough to where they’re thriving instead of just surviving. "We have to be able to pay our bills and have enough left over to continue living outside of work."

Jordan said it breaks her heart knowing that as the person signing their checks, she can’t give her staff what they deserve.

"We deserve a livable wage," Jordan said. "Some of the people that work here live in poverty, they get food stamps. This is supposed to be a career. It’s sad that they have to save up for a pair of pants."

The data

  • Before the experiment, 75% of those who took the survey said they saw themselves being employed at Loving Arms Kids Care for one year or less from that point. When asked in the post-experiment survey how long they saw themselves being employed there if the experimental pay continued beyond the trial period, 75% said three years or more from that point.  
  • Higher wages was consistently the No. 1 factor for seeking a position elsewhere in both  the pre-experiment and post-experiment surveys. Other factors mentioned were better hours, better benefits and more professional development.

In a series of open-ended questions posed in the post-experiment survey, Wade-Nagle, Gardner and Marsh asked how the experiment affected participants emotionally and professionally, and how it affected their level of pride in the job and their family’s well-being. Below are selected responses, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

  • How the experiment affected you professionally
    • I felt like my job was more important. I finally felt like the child care profession was just that, a profession and not a babysitting service.
    • As child care is a generally underpaid field, it was enjoyable to see that the wages represented the job responsibilities at a livable rate.
    • I had less on my mind, which weighed me down less at work.
    • Made me want to show up for work.
  • How the experiment affected your pride in your job
    • This experiment made me want to do better for myself, my co-workers, families, and most importantly, the children.
    • The higher wages allowed me to appreciate my position and feel validated financially as this can be a thankless job.
    • It did not affect pride in my job, my pride in my job is not affected by how much I am paid.
  • How the experiment affected your family’s well-being
    • This had a huge impact on my family's well-being. I was able to provide nutritious meals and medication for myself and my daughter without having to dip into my hard-earned savings.


Marsh said she was initially surprised that of the workers didn’t necessarily feel more valued with more money. Then she turned to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for context.

"They’re in survival mode in a lot of ways. They’re not looking to feel validated; they’re looking to just buy food for their children," she said.  

Another key takeaway was that by increasing their wage, more child care workers said they’d likely stay at their place of employment longer.

"That’s huge because of the cost of hiring new employees, training and background checks," Marsh said. "If you can keep most of your staff for three years or more, you’re going to save a ton of money."

The future

Wade-Nagle, Gardner and Marsh recognize this was a hyper-local example and not a long-term solution, but they hope the data and experiences they collected will be useful to help inform decision-makers in the areas of business, state government and philanthropy of what better pay does to affect retention.

"By having the hard data … hopefully we can open the eyes of people that have the ability to make a difference," Gardner said.
MARIA GONZALEZ-ALVAREZ: ‘I am who I am because of my mother’s sacrifice’
Photo by Emily Kestel. Illustration by Kate Meyer.
Maria Gonzalez-Alvarez is a disaster case manager for the tornado and derecho programs at Mid-Iowa Community Action in Marshalltown. She is the co-founder and co-organizer of Immigrant Allies, which is a resource organization that helps immigrant families that formed after the ICE raid at the Swift & Co. pork processing plant. She is also a board member of Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support, or ACCESS.

Her family immigrated to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico, in the 1990s. Undocumented for most of her life, Gonzalez-Alvarez received permanent residency last year through her husband, Roberto. She has two kids: Alexa and Carlos.

The following story has been formatted to be entirely in her own words, and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I am who I am because of my mother’s sacrifice.

I came to this country when I was 3 years old. When my mom came here, she had to walk through the desert.

I remember parts of Mexico, but there’s also parts that I’ve blocked off. When my mom, brother and I were going to come to the U.S., she had gone to Mexico City to see if she would qualify for a visa to come as a worker, but didn’t make enough money. The U.S. government was afraid that with two kids and no income, she would be a liability, so they denied her.

There were days that she didn’t have food to feed us. I remember her giving us tea to help us go to sleep because we would be so hungry. I remember watching her cry sometimes. At my age, there was nothing I could do to help her. I didn’t know why she was crying or what she was going through.

Before we were going to cross the border, she took us to my grandpa’s. He was a farmer. During that time, the Mexican government took away a lot of land and left him without anything. He would go up into the mountains with a donkey to get wood to sell in the city.

My mom told him that we’re going to leave and he said, "Don’t go. I’ll do whatever I can to help you." And my mom said, "It’s my responsibility to take care of my children. I can’t offer them anything here. They’re never going to have a chance to do anything here."

Several years later when we were in the U.S., my mom got the call that he had passed away, and she fell to her knees. She had promised that we were going to go back to see him, but she couldn’t leave the country. She couldn’t even go say goodbye. I asked, "Mom, didn’t you cry when you left him?" And she said, "No, because I knew that if I cried, I would have stayed. I wouldn’t have left."

We all flew up to Tijuana together from Michoacan. At the border, my mom was required to walk. There was no other way for her to come. The coyote that was going to bring her didn’t want to at first. He said that she was a liability and on top of that, she was a woman and the group that he was going to cross were primarily men. My mom said, "No, my kids are going to cross, so I have to make it across as well."

They put us on a bus, and my mom said, "You have to be a big girl. You have to take care of your brother." I don’t remember much of the bus.

I remember being in a hotel room with other little kids and my brother started crying because he was hungry. A lady went up to him, grabbed him by the arms and shook him. I remember freaking out and grabbing him and running to the bathroom. I laid him on top of me and rubbed his back so he would go to sleep. We slept in the bathtub. The next day, they put us in the back of a truck and told us that they were going to take us up to meet our families. When we got there, my aunt was there with her husband. I asked where my mom was and she said she was coming. It took her a couple of days to arrive.

When I saw her, she was covered in dirt and scratches. The first time she took off her shoes, the blisters on her feet were so bad she had to basically rip off the shoe.

When we came to Marshalltown, there weren’t a lot of kids that looked like me. We were one of the few Hispanic families here at the time and there wasn’t really an ESL teacher either, so we were basically on our own.

I obviously knew I was different by the way I looked and the language I spoke, but I didn’t fully realize that I couldn’t do everything my friends did. I still did sports, my mom would still volunteer and we still went to potlucks.

When I was 14, I told my mom that I needed my Social Security number to apply for driver’s ed. She said, "You don’t have one. You are undocumented. You cannot drive legally here." I said, "But other people can!" To me it was so stupid because my friends could all drive but I couldn’t. That was my first "I can’t."

When I was in high school, people were applying for scholarships and FAFSA [the Free Application for Federal Student Aid] and I couldn’t do any of that. My whole life, people had told me that when I grew up, I could be anything. That I could pick whatever career I wanted. But in reality, I couldn’t. I could only do what my family could afford. And with my mom working at a pork plant, that wasn’t going to be very much. I couldn’t afford college. For a long time, I thought that I was going to end up working at the pork plant. I would tell my mom and say, "This is it. This is who I’m going to be." My mom would say, "No. No."

She’s the type of person that doesn’t let you fail. She always says, "I walked five days through the desert for you. Five days! And this is what you’re giving me?" She’d tell us to just keep pushing forward and that everything was going to work out. That’s when the raid happened.

In the headlines
  • Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney lost her GOP primary last week to a rival backed by former president Donald Trump. "Two years ago, I won this primary with 73% of the vote. I could easily have done the same again," she said in her concession speech. "The path was clear, but it would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election. It would have required that I enabled his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic. That was a path I could not and would not take."
  • LaDrina Wilson has been named the CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce. Wilson was the CEO of Iman Consulting and the chair of the Chamber's board prior to the announcement and served as the vice president of student services at Black Hawk College for almost two years.
  • Laura Porter has been named the new director of the Iowa Architectural Foundation. She will replace Claudia Cackler, who has led the foundation for the past six and a half years.
  • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has formally apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather, the Apache and Yaqui actress and activist who was booed onstage at the 1973 Oscars ceremony. Actor Marlon Brando asked her to refuse the best actor award on his behalf to raise awareness about the negative depictions of Native American people in the media.
  • The Iowa Commission on the Status of Women has announced the 2022 Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame honorees. They are: Elizabeth Bates Cowles, Mary Richards, Laurie Schipper and Mary Swander. The recipient of the Christine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice is Ako Abdul-Samad. An induction ceremony will be held at 9:30 a.m., Aug. 27 at the Des Moines Playhouse.
  • New research found that requirements to increase women’s representation at the top of corporations can have "downstream effects," improving outcomes for women across all levels of the workforce. The study looked at companies in Italy and Greece in 2011, and found a 50% increase in overall attention to issues related to gender equality in Italian companies’ annual reports after a national quota law was passed, and no change in Greek businesses, who had no such law at the time.
  • Scotland has become the first country in the world to offer period products for free. Globally, around 500 million people who menstruate live in period poverty—the inability to access menstrual products because of financial constraints. Activists say this law will enable people to manage their periods effectively and reduce social stigma.
  • For the first time, the U.S. Army is set to offer its first official uniform bra. The designs all offer flame-retardant protection and include pullover and front-closure styles, structured and contoured seams, adjustable straps, padded cups, mesh venting and an inner dog-tag pocket. The project joins a wave of recent efforts to recognize the diversity of service members and improve uniform standards for women, who made up 16.5% of the enlisted forces in 2018.
Worth checking out
Men’s body image issues got worse during the pandemic – even if many didn’t realize it (Wall Street Journal). Post-Roe, more Americans want their tubes tied. It isn’t easy (Washington Post). 50 athletes for 50 years of Title IX: The Register's list of Iowa's greatest female athletes (Des Moines Register). What to actually do about an unequal partnership (Culture Study).
Via Health Services to open 32-bed all-women memory care unit in Des Moines
Via Health Services, a family-owned skilled nursing company, is opening a 32-bed memory care unit this month at its existing south Des Moines facility. It will be the first women-only Alzheimer’s and dementia care unit in Central Iowa, according to Via Health’s president, Jennifer Conner. The unit will be licensed as a CCDI (chronic confusion and dementing illness) facility.

The 14,000-square-foot unit, which will be named Iris at Fleur, is situated in a renovated space that formerly housed a skilled nursing unit at the Fleur Heights facility. With the addition of the new unit, the facility will have a total of 105 beds, including a long-term care and a skilled nursing unit.

It’s the first major renovation that Via Health Services has done since taking ownership of the care center more than six years ago from Pacifica Health Services, Conner said. Via Health Services also owns and operates an 80-bed skilled nursing facility in Carlisle that includes a 22-bed CCDI unit that is open to both men and women.

Librarian finds love notes, doodles in books and shares them with a grateful public
I am an avid reader, and to that end, I always have at least five books lying around the house at various stages of progress. But I have never been a person that uses bookmarks – instead, I’ll use various sticky notes, receipts, hair ties, a piece of newsprint ripped from the Business Record, or even leaves.

So when I came across this article from the Washington Post about a California librarian that collects all of the items left behind in returned books and then posts them online, I immediately swelled with joy and recognition.

I hope the article – and the mementos featured in it – will brighten your day, too.

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