Jun 15, 2023 - News

The cost of Utah's child care crisis

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Barriers to affordable child care tank employment opportunities for Utah families, new research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation outlines.

By the numbers: Between 2020 and 2021, about 13% of Utah children ages 5 and under were part of families in which someone quit, changed or refused a job over the cost and lack of child care options, per the report.

  • The average cost for a toddler to visit a child care center in Utah is about $9,000 a year. That's roughly 9% of the median income of a married couple in the state and 24% of a single mother's income.

Why it matters: Missing work or leaving a job due to child care challenges could diminish the resources a parent has to provide for their family.

The big picture: Such child care issues cost the state an estimated $1.36 billion in annual economic loss, per a 2023 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in partnership with the Salt Lake Chamber, Utah Community Builders, United Way of Salt Lake, and Voices for Utah Children.

  • About 77% of Utahns live in child care deserts, described as "areas with an insufficient supply of licensed child care," according to a 2018 Center for American Progress report.

Details: Utah children rank second in the nation for economic well-being, sixth for education and 18th for health, the foundation's report reveals.

Zoom out: Child care providers in Utah who earn low wages contribute to the care shortage, Martín Muñoz, Kids Count director for the nonprofit Voices for Utah Children, told Axios.

  • The median wage for a child care worker in 2019 was $10.74 an hour.

Between the lines: During the 2020 legislative session, then-Rep. Suzanne Harrison (D-Salt Lake City) introduced a measure that would have provided tax breaks for employers offering child care benefits for their employees.

  • Yes, but: After a heated committee debate, the bill did not move forward.
  • "Our state really pushes that responsibility and struggle on to the parents and makes it difficult for families to really get by," Muñoz said.

What's next: Muñoz fears what's to come once federal COVID-19 funding for child care runs out.

  • "We were already struggling prior to the pandemic. … It's just going to be much more significant on families and companies," he said.

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