Research shows childcare costs too high for many Utah workers
Childcare costs are too high for many Utah workers, according to recent research.
Utah business is booming, and the state’s unemployment numbers are some of the lowest in the nation, but many employees are still struggling with the care of their children when they are working.
According to a Utah Women & Leadership Project research report, “Childcare: What Utahns Need to Know,” written by Robbyn Scribner and Susan Madsen, for some families “the annual cost of childcare is higher than the cost of in-state tuition at a four-year public college.”
The study’s authors cite data from the Economic Policy Institute showing that average monthly costs for infant care in Utah is $720 per month. This monthly cost is 52 percent more than college tuition and is nearly expensive as average apartment rent, Scribner and Madsen said in their report. Care for a 4-year-old is $551 each month.
“Utah has both large families and a tight labor market; childcare is an economic imperative. We must thoughtfully address our childcare needs in order to bolster the state’s economy today and in the future, as well-educated children will comprise tomorrow’s thriving labor force,” the authors said in the report.
According to their research, Utah is ranked as the second least affordable state for infant and toddler care in a center and third for infant care in a family care setting. Utah also ranked as the least affordable state for full-time summer care for school-aged children.
Scribner and Madsen explained that for a family earning the state’s median income, childcare costs take 13 percent of that annual income, but for a family earning minimum wage, those same costs take 57 percent of their annual income. For lower wage earners, there are state subsidies to help with this cost, but for those just above the subsidy requirements their annual childcare costs eat up 20 to 30 percent of their income.
Scribner and Madsen note that while access to adequate and affordable childcare is a family and community issue, women are often the ones managing the childcare arrangements, and often inhibits those needing to work. In cases of single-mother households, “women may carry both breadwinning and caregiving duties with very little support.”
Across the United States, 71 percent of women with children under 18 are in the workforce. In Utah, 52 percent of children under 6 have “all available parents in the workforce” — meaning if the child has two parents, both are working, or if the child has a single parent, he or she is working. Mothers with children over age 6 are in the workforce in even higher percentages.
While some parents prefer to leave their children in the care of family or close friends, others must use formal childcare programs. For these parents, the study estimates that there are not enough openings in formal, licensed childcare facilities.
“High quality, affordable childcare is a critically important issue,” Scribner and Madsen said in their report.
The Economic Policy Institute estimates that child care reform which capped families’ child care expenses at 10 percent of their income would have a significant impact on Utah’s economy, bolstering it by 0.8 percent — the equivalent of $1.12 billion of new economic activity.
In their report, Scribner and Madsen encouraged Utah state agencies, community advocates and policy makers to continue their efforts to address these challenges. The YWCA Utah, an organization that advocates for women and girls in Utah, prioritized access to high quality affordable childcare for its 2018 legislative goals.
“Some legislators are advancing policy options to address childcare issues as well, but increased support is needed to pass workable solutions,” Scribner and Madsen said in the report. “Other stakeholders, such as employers, institutions of higher education, and childcare providers, must continue to explore options that will serve children and allow for better financial and quality-of-life outcomes for parents.”
Scribner is a research fellow at Utah Valley University, and Madsen is the founder of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.