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This Is Uncomfortable

In California, minimum wage boon can lead to child care costs

Deepa Fernandes Dec 24, 2015
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“Thank you for calling Domino’s pizza can I help you?” asked Alerna Iznaga Capiro, as she started to take an order. She really likes her pizza delivery job in Oakland where she works about 30 hours per week. You want a medium pizza two top? What kind of medium pizza?” 

Capiro’s  done all sorts of jobs that pay about $10 an hour since coming here from Havana 10 years ago.

So when Oakland raised its minimum wage earlier this year to $12.25 and hour, how did she feel?

 “Oh! Me? So happy! But not just me, everyone felt happy, like, wow!” she said, speaking in Spanish. 

When her wage went up after Oakland raised its minimum wage, Alerna Iznaga Capiro no longer qualified for free child care. Her income rose above the threshold and she has to pay a fee of $42 per month. (Deepa Fernandes/ KPCC)

With that increase, Capiro started making about $63 more each week. That helps with rising rent costs in Oakland, and all her other expenses.  But this single mother was hit with another monthly bill that she never expected: Her new wage now pushed her marginally over the threshold to qualify for free child care for her toddler — a little bundle of personality, Aidin Jissell, who is two years old.

In California, if someone’s income gets to a certain level, they have to start paying some child care costs. Capiro now has to pay $42 a month for care that used to be free. With her raise, that puts her about $200 ahead. Still pretty good, right?

“The problem is that there are months that I might come up short,” she said. 

A $42 monthly child care fee might not seem like much but Capiro says living in Oakland is getting more expensive by the day.

It’s a textbook case of the unintended consequence of raising the minimum wage: in California, an increase could result in kids missing out on child care or even preschool.

“See when my wage went up, everything went up.  All my food costs, and it was really my child’s expenses that went up, the rent went up. Everything went up,” Capiro said. 

Mira Djuric  manages the benefits programs for an organization called the 4Cs of Alameda County.  It helps parents like Capiro obtain the monthly child care subsidy. She’s seen many mothers struggle after getting the minimum wage raise, because of new child care costs.

“Instead of us being happy because they got increase in their hourly rate, we do understand that also gives them hardship to pay those family fees,” Djuric said. “And it could look to average person that $42 is nothing compared to their raise, but it’s a lot to them.

L.A. is also raising the minimum wage over three years. Michele Sartell runs programs in the LA City office of Child Care. She said, imagine a family where both parents work for less than $9 an hour.

Then their salary goes from 9 to 10 to 10.50 an hour,” Sartell said. 

That sounds good. But, when it comes to child care, “they’ll be dropped from the rolls,” she said. 

That means the child will be ineligible for state-subsidized child care or preschool altogether. So what will these parents do? The cost of private child care in California is comparable to the cost of community college, far out of reach of minimum wage earners.

 “It means that they’re going to have to figure out other child care arrangements,” Sartell said. 

That doesn’t mean that Sartell believes the minimum wage increase is a bad thing.

 I don’t think that’s what we’re saying,” she said. “I think what we’re saying is that we need to raise the income cap otherwise they cannot afford to pay for child care.”

Any change to that income cap would have to come from the state.

Alerna Capiro is now paying the child care fee. She hires her mother, Etelvina Capiro, to babysit her 2-year-old. The state pays Etelvina a nominal amount for that care. Why does grandma do it? She said because it is her granddaughter.

And what does Etelvina do all day with her grandchild? Well, we’re Cuban, she said, so we dance! 

 

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