RICHMOND, Va. -- Although he's at home sick this Thursday with an ear infection, nine-month-old Lewis typically loves to go to daycare with his two-year-old brother while his parents are at work.
But, his daycare in the Lakeside area unexpectedly announced last week that it would have to shut down Lewis' classroom indefinitely.
"There were too many teachers that resigned at the same time and the center was not able to hire people in time," Lewis's mom Taylor Parkhurst said.
That put the family in quite a bind.
"We need something starting Monday, May 2, and we have called about 20 daycare centers in the area and they all have a waitlist out to 2023 for an infant," Parkhurst said.
Brittany Jobes, mom to nine-month-old Gigi, is in the same boat.
"We are not in a position to hire a nanny. That's a really expensive option," Jobes said. "I'm struggling with what it means to raise a family in the U.S. right now. I don't think this is something daycares or parents can solve on their own."
Childcare expert Elliot Haspel, Program Officer for Education, Policy and Research at the Robins Foundation, said Jobes is right.
"Until we fix that structural flaw, that fundamental flaw, programs are going to be stuck in these dire staffing straits and it's going to affect parents," Haspel said.
That fundamental problem? Daycares have to have a certain number of staff members in each classroom. Parents already pay exorbitant prices for the services, so daycares cannot afford to pay their staff more than $10 to $15 per hour.
Haspel said industries like fast food and retail have been able to raise their wages considerably, but hourly wages for childcare workers have barely increased, which is why so many childcare workers have left the industry.
"It's a bad cycle, parents are paying too much but teachers aren't making enough," Jobes said.
"I really feel for the teachers they put in such long hours and care so well for our babies, I don't blame them for wanting higher wages," Parkhurst said.
Problems like this are why Haspel advocates for government intervention.
"This is why the only solution is to get public money in the system. These programs have nowhere else to turn, they're not going to raise fees on parents," Haspel said.
He hopes people become outspoken advocates for change.
"It's going to take parents, childcare providers, businesses, everyone really rallying together and saying to our lawmakers, childcare is essential," Haspel said.
"Something needs to be done at the state, local, national level," Parkhurst said.