(Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of stories exploring poverty in Bradley County and the Ocoee Region, as well as the growing number of local families struggling to survive as the "working poor." Today's website story is an abbreviated version of the more detailed article that will appear in Tuesday's print edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.)
Safe, reliable childcare is a necessity for many families. However, it can also make up an unexpectedly large percentage of a family’s budget.
This was a point highlighted in “ALICE in Tennessee: A Financial Hardship Study,” which was recently released by the United Ways of Tennessee.
The study looked at the lives of families whose incomes are higher than the federal poverty level, yet they still struggle to afford household necessities. These families are considered “ALICE,” or “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.”
Of the estimated 40,610 households in Bradley County, 24% of households are considered ALICE, and an additional 17% are living in poverty. This was based on the federal poverty income level for 2017, which was $12,060 for a single adult and $24,600 for a family of four.
The study compared incomes in each Tennessee county with “household survival budgets” based on estimated costs of living. According to the study, childcare can actually cost more than a family’s monthly housing costs.
“This was a stunner for me — the cost of childcare,” said Matt Ryerson, executive director of United Way of the Ocoee Region. “Single parents especially are making the most difficult decisions for their children.”
The “household survival budget” for a Bradley County family with two adults, one infant and one preschooler includes $745 for housing, $543 for food, $990 for childcare, $644 for transportation, $529 for healthcare, $75 for technology and $403 miscellaneous. With taxes, a family must make $4,436 a month — or $53,232 a year — to follow this budget.
However, authors of the study said the childcare described in this budget is based on home-based childcare services, rather than services from state-certified childcare centers. A “household stability budget” which includes certified childcare places the estimate for one infant and preschooler at $1,081 a month.
Even if a family can afford those childcare costs, there is another obstacle — availability. Calls a Cleveland Daily Banner reporter made to Bradley County childcare centers revealed many are full and operating with waiting lists.
This lack of affordability and availability means families are having to look for other childcare alternatives, which some say has proven harmful for local children.