Herald editorial: Increasing child care costs should prompt innovative solutions
Paying for child care has become burdensome for many families in the United States.
Utah is not exactly an exception to the rule. The average monthly cost for child care in Utah County, for instance, is $715 for an infant under 2 years of age. Some savings are achieved on a per-child basis if a family has more than one child requiring care but, with more children, come higher costs.
Elected representatives at the federal, state and local level are beginning to call for solutions.
The problem seems simple enough: With the U.S. seeing full employment, businesses are having difficulty finding workers to fill available jobs. If child care costs remain relatively high, families that are able will send one parent home to raise their children, families unable to send a parent home will continue to struggle financially and businesses will have an even more difficult time filling available jobs.
Enter Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, to submit two bills during this year’s session of the Utah Legislature to address the issue. Harrison’s first bill, House Bill 187, would create an employer tax credit for businesses that subsidize child care at a licensed facility.
In our opinion, this is unlikely to solve the issue in the near term and is a sizable giveaway to businesses that have not earned the advantage.
Companies used to know that if you were experiencing difficulty finding skilled labor, wages ought to increase to attract a larger pool of applicants. Instead, there are now countless examples of companies using the state to advantage themselves. Child care is becoming part of that list.
Harrison’s other bill, House Bill 89, would allow the Office of Economic Development to consider whether a company provides working parent benefits before awarding companies with other tax incentives. Same problem, different reasons.
It is not controversial to suggest that, in instances where it can be afforded, many families would prefer to have one parent stay home to care for their children.
A Gallup poll from 2015 found that 56% of mothers with children under the age of 18 would prefer to stay at home. Further, according to Forbes magazine, mothers of the millennial generation are staying home at higher rates than their mothers — often working from home while helping to raise a family. But there’s no rule that says women have to stay home. Men could absolutely stay home with the kids if that’s what a particular family sees fit. It is 2020, after all.
If enough families did this, perhaps businesses would increase wages to the extent that the loss of income from a two-parent working household would be compensated in the long run.
The advantage here is that the family may be better able to raise their children in a way that aligns with their values and avoids furthering the bureaucratic morass and low wages associated with the child care industry. It would also benefit families without two parents in the form of higher wages that could, in the long run, pay for quality child care.
Because local companies that provide day care and child care services are trying to keep costs down, they’re operating with thin profit margins and paying their employees relatively low wages as a result.
According to Kids Connection child care center co-director Tamara Thomas, 90% of her staff earns less than $10 an hour. This is comparable to earnings reported by workers in the fast food industry. Let the possible consequences of that sink in. Would you rather care for your children? Or let someone earning under $10 an hour care for your children?
If a business finds it advantageous to its hiring practices to provide child care benefits as part of its compensation package along with health care, vacation and a 401(k), we would consider that a positive development. Utah should want companies that highly consider the welfare of their employees.
The marketplace, however, is often much more innovative with these solutions than a one-size-fits-all approach to lowering child care costs through the state. Utahns, of all people, should be jumping at the opportunity being presented economically to continue making family a central focus of social life.
We’re certain subsidies and other incentives will become commonplace in the coming years to combat increasing child care costs. What’s important to consider as legislation across the country is introduced, in our opinion, is who is benefiting and what is being sacrificed as a result.