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If there’s one thing all Illinoisans can agree on, it’s that our state should be a great place to raise and care for a family. It could be.

My name is Dr. Erma Jackson, and I am a child care provider who takes pride in teaching children they are worthy while getting them ready to expand their education. I am confident we are in good hands with the next generation. I’m worried, however, that Illinois makes it too hard for child care providers to do this job and sustain ourselves and our families.

And my name is A. Maxine Seals. I am a home care provider who cares for my two adult children with disabilities who require round-the-clock attention. I’m grateful I’ve been able to keep my family together and get my kids the level of care they require and deserve. I started providing care services 18 years ago, leaving behind a lucrative job as a marketing manager. I was able to do this for my family, but many families don’t have this option — home care is mentally and physically demanding work and the pay is low. I learned quickly that home care is serious business, but I fear that if pay and benefits remain as they are, Illinois will never be able to recruit a stable and experienced workforce to provide desperately-needed services. The average wage for home care workers in Illinois is just $15.26 per hour (which is just under $32,000 per year) without any basic benefits like paid time off or health insurance. At 73 years old, I’m terrified of what will happen when I can no longer care for my children. Like most of my fellow home care workers, we work until we are physically unable, because we have no other choice without retirement security.

Right now, more than 45,000 child care and home care workers like us, who provide care through state-run programs, are bargaining with the Gov. J.B. Pritzker administration to address the mounting care worker crisis. For Illinois to lead the nation as the best place to raise and sustain a family, the state must prioritize child and home care workers by investing in livable wages and access to retirement. 

From Carbondale to Rockford, working families and people with disabilities cannot access the care services they need. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of child care providers available to serve Illinois families through the Child Care Assistance Program fell by 65%. It’s no surprise that 58% of the statewide population lives in an area where there aren’t enough child care providers to care for the local population of children. Over one in ten people with disabilities in the DORS Home Services program need home care services but are not receiving them, according to SEIU Healthcare Illinois’ data.

The gap between the number of people who need care and the number of people who can provide it comes down to workforce shortages fueled by low pay, lack of benefits, and no pathway to retirement security. 

Think about it: the job description for a child care provider or home care worker is long, the responsibilities on their shoulders are life-or-death, and the outcomes of their labor have a direct impact on our communities and society. They are helping to raise our children and assisting people with disabilities, helping them stay safe and healthy. Yet Illinois home care workers and child care providers are living in poverty, many forced to work multiple jobs, and countless relying on local food pantries to feed their families.   

Thankfully, there are tens of thousands of dedicated care workers across Illinois who do this work because we love it and understand how important it is. Many of those workers are Black women, Latinas, and immigrant women. That’s not a coincidence: these same communities are also home to many of the families most in need of care. We’re stuck in a vicious cycle of racial and gender injustice, and it’s beyond unsustainable to expect care workers to continue contributing without fair compensation and support.

Failure to right these longstanding wrongs would be contrary to Illinois’ values. The status quo makes it needlessly difficult for families to get the care they need and communities of color to get a fair shot at a brighter future.

There is a better way forward. Other states, like Minnesota, have wages for care workers that range from $20 to $25/hour with seniority increases, and retirement funds. Illinois could easily follow suit.

The need for care isn’t going away —  it’s growing every day. Gov. Pritzker can do what’s right for our state and invest in child and home care workers. With a robust, well-compensated care workforce and access to quality home and child care services in every Illinois community, we can reach our potential to be the best state to raise a family in.

left a job as a marketing manager to provide home care services for her daughter 18 years ago. She is now a full-time home care worker in Markham and the primary caretaker for her two adult children.
is a licensed, accredited Chicago child care provider who has been providing child care services for 20 years.