Illinois has more working mothers than the U.S. average — and they pay too much for child care

More mothers work in Illinois than the national average, and many spend more than half of their income on childcare, according to a new report that puts Illinois is the lowest tier of states when it comes to support of its 465,000 infants and toddlers.

The first-of-its-kind State of Babies Yearbook 2019 also showed that, compared with national averages, Illinois has enrolled far fewer of its poorest children in publicly funded child care programs. The report, compiled by the research organization Child Trends and the advocacy group Zero To Three, rated all 50 states on more than two dozen health and early education indicators and put Illinois in the lowest quartile overall. Neighboring states Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota all fared better in the ratings.

The news wasn’t all bad, however. Illinois expanded its Medicaid program beginning in 2014, and the state now claims fewer uninsured young children and better preventive care rates of pregnant women compared with national averages.

One troubling health statistic, though, is the state’s infant mortality rate: 6.3 deaths per 1,000 live births.

“Young children are most dependent on the families and caregivers,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, the chief policy officer at Zero to Three, which issued the report. She said the statistics reveal not just how states treat children, but also how they support families — or don’t. One number that stuck out to her, she said, was Illinois’ low percentage of families who receive governmental support, which the state calls Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Here in Illinois, that figure is 5.5 percent compared with the national 21 percent.

“Often these are families who are working, and they are working multiple jobs and still can’t make ends meet,” Jones-Taylor said. “That is incredibly stressful, and stress does terrible things to working parents.”

Illinois just elected a new governor, J.B. Pritzker, who is an early childhood philanthropist. His first budget, which he announced in February and labeled “austere” in the face of a $3.2 billion projected deficit in spending this year, still proposes $100 million more for early childhood education than the previous year and an additional $30 million to help rebuild a child care assistance program that has seen declining numbers of families and providers during his predecessor’s administration. But advocates told Chalkbeat they would have liked to see increases for programs they deem critical for families with babies, such as home visits in the first few months after delivery.

The State of Babies report was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one of America’s largest health-focused foundations, and the Perigee Fund, a fund dedicated to childhood mental health.

The state’s full report is viewable below.