Access to child care is critical for families. While many parents stay home with their children by choice, others may be forced to leave their job if child care is unavailable. This is not a small issue. The inability to work due to trouble accessing child care that meets their needs can keep families stuck in poverty. Not only does this limited access affect families, but it also affects Michigan’s economic growth. In July, the state’s unemployment rate was just 4.3 percent, but the lack of available workers constrains potential economic development.

Child care is a complex issue. Many of these issues are addressed in Building a Better Child Care System , an in-depth look at child care in Michigan. This report examines the availability of child care and how this availability has changed over time. Michigan has a strong child care system. The state supports a mixed-delivery early childhood care and education system, and a child care subsidy is available to eligible parents who have their children in school-based settings, licensed centers, and family and group homes. In certain circumstances, families using friends, family, and neighbors to provide care can also access the subsidy, even if these providers are unlicensed.

Michigan has made a concerted effort to increase access to quality programs. The state measures the quality of licensed child care providers through the Great Start to Quality system, a voluntary rating process, using a five-star scale. Approximately half of Michigan providers participate in the system, and approximately 85 percent of rated providers earn three starts or better (Great Start to Quality 2018).

While the system is strong, there are still challenges. Advocates, parents, and others have raised concerns that child care is becoming increasingly difficult to access in their communities. Among the concerns frequently raised are that many home-based providers are retiring with no other alternatives for replacement; and in many communities, licensed infant and toddler care is challenging to find.

Information on the availability of care and how that availability is changing has tended to be anecdotal. People react with concern to the closing of a center or the retirement of home-based providers in their communities and wonder if these events are symptoms of a more serious problem. Assessing this issue is made more complicated by the fact that the population of children is also declining in most Michigan communities. Therefore, decreases in licensed providers and slots are to be expected. While the actual change in the need for child care cannot be observed, the change in the population of young children is a good proxy for this measure. In addition, given the strong recovery in Michigan’s economy, the population-adjusted demand for child care is expected to be growing. Therefore, the demand for child care may have declined by an amount somewhat smaller than the decline in the population of children.

This report examines whether the decline in licensed care exceeds the decline in the number of children needing care. The report does this by comparing the recent history of licensed child care programs to population data. Licensing data from 2010 through 2017 was obtained from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, and these data were compared with population counts from the U.S. Census Bureau. This report analyzes these data at the state and county levels.

The following report presents key findings from the data, an overview of the methodology, illustrates important data trends through county maps, provides a summary of population and licensing data for Michigan, and concludes with detailed data tables. A supplemental report, available as an attachment, offers an overview of changes between 2010 and 2017 for each of Michigan’s 83 counties.