As a parent who spends his work day driving, Martin Sanchez can't hit the road unless he has child care for his kids, but this father of two has spent the last few months struggling to find child care and was nearly fired because of it.
"If I don't have a [child care] I have to miss work. If I have to miss work, I don't make money and can't pay my bills. I would have to miss work because my babysitter was either sick or couldn’t watch them," Sanchez said while sitting inside his car in Escondido, California.
Like so many Americans right now, navigating the roadmap to get childcare met has been tough. It's a problem repeating itself countless times across the country.
Michele Wayland oversees enrollment at Nurtury Early Education in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She sees what families are up against with each incoming phone call.
"We have families that are not returning back to work or they are trying to find a family or friend to watch their child, but it's not ideal. It's not a quality education program," she said.
This nonprofit is located right in the middle of a public housing complex. They have an intimate view of what happens when childcare isn't available.
"It’s heartbreaking to be on the other side of a phone call with a parent and you want to help them, but you can’t because you just don’t have the space," Wayland added.
Because of staffing shortages, Nurtury has four closed classrooms right now. They are short 24 teachers. If they had enough staff, Nurtury could accept 385 students. Instead, enrollment is currently capped at 314 kids.
Laura Perille is Nurtury's president and CEO. She along with others in the industry are continuing to lobby Congress for additional funding to raise salaries for child care providers, a cause that gained traction when the pandemic started but those efforts are now stalling.
"Attention and awareness is not enough, now we need funding and systemic change," Perille said.
Cost continues to be a major factor for families struggling to find child care. Most families are spending about $11,000 a year on childcare. The average US family spends about 10-15% of their annual income on child care services.
"We need that conversation at the federal level where we can make a decision to invest in early education the way we do in K-12 education," she added.
After weeks of trying, Martin Sanchez recently was able to get his kids into a summer camp program. A solution, for now, that's preventing him from having to miss any more work.
"It's more peace of mind for now," he said.