CHIPPEWA VALLEY Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Finding reliable, affordable childcare has long been a challenge for parents. The pandemic made it even more difficult.

“Childcare is the bedrock of our economy. It is at least for the middle class.” UW-Eau Claire assistant professor Angela Jones teaches courses in early childhood special education.

As someone who’s spent her career studying childcare, she says the industry’s problems are nothing new. However, the pandemic has made it worse. The biggest problem is that it lives in the private market despite economic challenges.

“Centers can only charge so much for childcare, right? Families can only afford to pay so much. But when you think about childcare centers, the bulk of their expenses goes to facilities, insurance, and wages. And we know that in childcare, that is one of the, if not the most, underpaid fields,” said Jones.

She says despite the low pay, childcare centers run on thin profit margins. Since centers can’t charge or pay more, fewer people want to go into the field.

“It’s certainly not a moneymaker.” This, along with other factors has led to a childcare shortage. That’s why Jones recently joined a task force looking for solutions in the Chippewa Valley. Andy Neborak created the task force, which features several stakeholders in the area including business leaders and childcare experts like jones.

“Childcare is really a huge issue everywhere. If families, for example, are not able to find childcare for their children and it results in, you know, people leaving the workforce,” said Neborak.

He says he thought of the task force because he’s seen similar collaboration work to help solve other problems. However, Neborak isn’t expecting solutions overnight to a problem this complex.

“It’s not something where we say in six months, ‘ok, yep, we’re done.’ you know, that’s really not how this looks. It’s going to be an ongoing issue.” He says the task force. Which began meeting last month. Could stay active for years looking at incremental fixes. Jones says one solution she’s looking at is increasing the number of home-based centers. They are daycares run out of peoples’ homes set up through the proper, regulated channels.