Child care providers raise alarm about workforce shortages, lack of available slots
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Good morning, happy Tuesday and happy end of the year!

This week, we’re running the first part of a series on the child care crisis. We’ve published several stories about child care in Fearless in the past, but it’s an issue that deserves coverage year-round because it affects everyone —  not just those with children.

This article in particular illustrates how a shortage of child care workers and a lack of available slots in the state are affecting other areas of the economy. We also discuss what’s been done – and is currently being done – to address the crisis, at both the community and the state levels.

That being said, it’s an issue with a lot of moving parts. I wrote the story in a way that even if you know nothing about child care at all, you’d be able to understand it by the end of the article. It’s a long piece, but I think it’s worth reading.

However, we’re experimenting with a different story format to tee up the article in case you’re strapped for time. Let us know what you think about it.

On to the newsletter!

Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

‘It’s never been this bad before’
Child care providers raise alarm about workforce shortages, lack of available slots
Marilyn Wenberg (standing) and Carmen Anstey (sitting) care for kids in the 19-to-26-month room at the Ann Wickman Child Development Center in Atlantic. Photo by Emily Kestel.
Main idea:

Child care programs are currently facing what so many other industries of the economy are experiencing: a lack of employees. U.S. Labor Department data shows that the child care services industry nationwide is still down more than 100,000 workers compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Because of the child care industry’s unique position in its effect on the rest of the economy, that’s a problem. Without enough employees available, child care providers often have to turn away children in order to maintain the DHS ratio requirements. When children are turned away, working parents are left scrambling to find other options for care. If they can’t find any — which isn’t uncommon, due to the severe shortage of slots — they may be forced to quit their jobs to stay at home.  

Child care has been an issue in the state for a long time, but there are several key barriers currently at play: availability, affordability and quality. For years, advocates have worked to increase business engagement and legislative action for child care solutions, but progress was slow.

A joint rebranding effort from several advocacy organizations in Iowa elevated child care into an economic issue. The pandemic also heightened awareness of the crisis.

Action is being taken at local and state levels, but child care providers and advocates say more is needed.

Key facts:


  • "With child care and the number of women dropping out of the workforce, has it gotten so bad that we’re really willing to solve this problem once and for all?" - Jennifer Banta, vice president of community engagement and advocacy, Iowa City Area Business Partnership
  • "If they don’t fix us, then there’s not going to be people available to go back to work because they’re not going to have child care." - Miranda Niemi, executive director, Collins Aerospace Day Academy
  • "Child care providers are not paid near enough. A 16-year-old can make two to three times that much money [without] having to do near the work that these ladies and men are having to do on a daily basis." - Dianna Williams, director, Ann Wickman Child Development Center


Friday the 13th has long been considered a day of bad luck. It certainly was a bad day for Miranda Niemi this August.

Niemi runs Collins Aerospace Day Academy in Cedar Rapids, which is the largest child care center in the state.  

That day — Aug. 13 — was the last day for six of Niemi’s employees, which meant that it would be the last day that she would spend her entire workday sitting at the executive director desk.

To keep in line with the strict DHS staff-to-children ratio requirements, Niemi had to teach 13 of the center’s 3-year-olds full time in addition to maintaining her responsibilities as executive director.

"[Aug. 13] was when we nose-dived," she said. "I thought COVID was going to be the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with as a director.

"I think the [workforce] crisis might be."

Was this story summary format useful to you? Let us know.
SERIES: 20 years of decline: Iowa’s dwindling birthing units
Red areas on the map represent the 53 Iowa counties that do not have a hospital with a birthing unit as of April 2021 due to a closure or because the county has never had a birthing unit. Graphic by Patrick Herteen.
Throughout the last three weeks, we’ve shared excerpts of Sarah Bogaards’ series on birthing center closures in the state and how it’s changing maternal health care. Part one looked at the overall problem, part two explored a couple of communities that have lost a birthing unit in the past two decades, and part three looked at potential solutions.

If you missed the series, you can read the entire thing all in one place on our website.

In the headlines
  • After a consecration service earlier this month, Betsey Monnot became the first female bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa. She hopes to strengthen the congregations and the relationships between them and leadership, as well as strengthen relationships with companion dioceses in Scotland, South Sudan and Eswatini.
  • Last month, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former top Communist Party official of sexual assault on social media. The post was quickly removed and Shaui dropped out of public view for weeks. Now, she’s saying that her accusations have been misunderstood. Many are concerned that she’s only changing the story after pressure from Chinese officials.
  • Since July 2021, women’s wage growth has outpaced men’s — a reversal of the trend that had been in place since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. This September saw the biggest gap in earnings growth between the sexes, with the three-month average of women’s gains reaching 4.9%, while men saw a growth of 3.4%.
  • A growing share of childless adults in the U.S. are saying they don't plan to ever have kids, a recent Pew survey found. About 44% of childless American adults under age 50 said it's not too likely — or not at all likely — that they will have kids. That's an increase of 7 percentage points from 2018.
  • Nominations for the 2022 Louise Rosenfield Noun Visionary Award are open through Jan. 6. The annual award, hosted by the Young Women’s Resource Center, honors advocates, activists, innovators and philanthropists who have made significant contributions toward empowering girls and young women.
  • The Iowa Credit Union Foundation announced that Jelena Babic Barnes has been named the organization’s executive director. Babic Barnes succeeds Jaime Miller, who was executive director of the foundation for eight years before being named vice president of the Iowa Credit Union League in February.
A voice heard: Reyma McCoy McDeid

McCoy McDeid has become one of the foremost advocates for marginalized communities, particularly those on the autism spectrum like herself. She’s run for political office, worked on national administrations, led nonprofit organizations, and started her own business to help others learn and improve. All of those actions have been with the same goal — making sure communities recognize and value input from all people.
Worth checking out
What happens when you have an all-women city council? (The 19th). We need more Asian women superheroes (The Audacity). Why 1,320 therapists are worried about mental health in America right now (New York Times). Six workplace lessons from 2021 to carry into next year (Time).
Here is a list of resources you can use to tackle the issue of child care, whether you’re a parent, a community member or a business executive.

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