by Bukata Hayes
In a recent episode of the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” an important reality about child care permeated the discussion: that for many families, access to quality child care requires significant financial resources. This is certainly the case in Minnesota, where the average cost of child care is more than $1,000 per month.
When looking deeper, we see how a lack of access to early childhood care and education is experienced across different communities – and how structural racism impacts access and quality.
Cost limits access
Structural racism impacts a family’s ability to access a quality early childhood care and education program. We see this through the average cost of care, coupled with racial and ethnic earnings disparities, which are larger in Minnesota than in the U.S. as a whole. (For instance, Black, Indigenous, Latine and Hmong workers in Minnesota have median annual earnings ranging from $27,900 to $35,000, while white workers have median earnings of $47,900.) These income disparities mean that Black, Indigenous and other parents of color have an even more difficult time affording child care than white parents.
Role of program funding
While Minnesota has state- and locally funded programs that help with the cost of child care, many eligible families are unable to access them due to insufficient funding. Among the children eligible based on their family’s income, 83% are not receiving early learning scholarships, 52% are not enrolled in Head Start and 94% are not enrolled in Early Head Start. The problem here is not lack of parental interest, but rather lack of funding.
Structure and schedule of licensed child care programs
The majority of licensed child care programs tend to be open from early morning to early evening. These hours of operation are a good fit for parents who work during that time frame (usually considered more white-collar, first-shift working hours), but that structure makes it next to impossible for parents to find care if they work jobs that have erratic or unpredictable hours. This varied schedule is a reality for parents who work low-wage jobs – jobs that are also unlikely to include employment benefits like paid time off. And Black, Indigenous, Latine, Asian Pacific Islander and other parents of color are more likely to be in low-wage jobs compared to white parents.
There is also the issue that care provided by families, friends and neighbors outside of the formal child care system is often unfairly dismissed as low-quality, and not provided with needed material, educational and community support.
Impact on workforce
An integral part of the child care system is the training and education of teachers and caregivers. And the unfortunate reality is that teachers of color have less access to higher levels of training and education when compared to white teachers and caregivers, in both center-based child care and licensed family child care programs.
There is also the issue of chronically low wages for caregivers, coupled with the fact that women of color are overrepresented in the early childhood workforce and earn poverty-level wages. For example, on average, Black female full-time educators serving children ages 0-5 earn 84 cents for every $1 earned by their white counterparts.
These and other issues – such as the disproportionate number of children of color being expelled from child care settings and the statewide shortage of culturally based child care that is rooted in community – require strategic and immediate action. And they are the driving force behind the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation’s Healthy Start initiative.
The connection between education and health is well known, with research, telling us that quality early childhood care and education results in:
- Better physical health from childhood to the adult years
- Kids being more likely to enter kindergarten ready to learn and become proficient readers (a strong predictor of high school graduation and long-term health)
- Families across the state receiving critical support
- Progress toward racial and health equity
This connection to health is why the Blue Cross Foundation has been committed to increasing access to high-quality early childhood care and education for nearly 20 years. We do this by providing funding to community-based organizations and actively building partnerships and coalitions within the field.
Structural racism is embedded in all of society’s systems, including early childhood care and education. The Foundation’s Healthy Start initiative is one effort working to root this out. Real, sustainable, systemic change requires a collective effort across all sectors. When we all commit to this critical work together, all Minnesota children will receive quality care – especially those with the greatest need.
 Cost of Care – Child Care Aware MN
2] People of color face systemic disparities in Minnesota’s labor market | Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (minneapolisfed.org)
 Evaluating-early-childhood.pdf (cdf-mn.org)
 Early Care and Education Workforce Demographic Series: A Look at Professional Characteristics, and Comparisons with Child and Community Characteristics | The Administration for Children and Families (hhs.gov
 Transforming Minnesota’s Early Childhood Workforce Project’s Commitment to Racial Equity (ecworkforcemn.org
 Rebuilding the Early Care & Education System With Equity at the Center — Capita
 A quiet crisis: Minnesota’s child care shortage | Center for Rural Policy and Development (ruralmn.org)
About the author: Bukata Hayes is chair of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation board of directors and vice president of racial and health equity at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.