4 Things You Should Know About Childcare Challenges in Utah

Organizations are sounding the alarm about rising costs and a looming crisis with potentially “catastrophic” consequences.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Teacher Alyssa works with the children at Sammy Center Preschool in Millcreek on Thursday, August 3, 2023. Day care costs are expected to increase by 9% or more as government COVID-19 funding for supports the industry is phased out.

This story is part of the Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to finding solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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Childcare in Utah can cost as much as tuition at state colleges, and it’s getting more expensive.

The industry was “pretty muddled” even before the coronavirus pandemic, said Jenna Wiliams, a policy analyst at the nonprofit Voices for Utah Children.

The federal government jumped in with stabilization grants as COVID-19 exacerbated problems in the industry, but those funds are running out.

Voices for Utah Children and partners like the Utah State Board of Education and United Way of Salt Lake are sounding the alarm about the looming crisis with potentially “catastrophic” implications.

They also offer options like a provider tax credit, childcare grant program improvements, and other supportive solutions.

Here are the basics of the problem and possible solutions.

According to a 2021 market study, the average annual cost of infant care and young child care was $9,556 and $8,081 per year, respectively.

Data from KIDS COUNT — a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that shows how the nation’s lack of affordable and accessible childcare is negatively impacting children, families and US businesses — has a higher estimate of $9,003 for center-based child care and $7,684 for family care or home care.

Some families pay much more.

Marissa Moran planned to reduce her hours to spend more time with her children before she and her husband learned day care would cost nearly $30,000 due to a 9% increase.

Moran is aware the extra money will help increase teachers’ salaries but said further increases could make the cost prohibitive.

The rate increases replace stabilization grants that have helped daycares stay open, Williams said.

Maria Soter, the founder and director of the Sammy Center, a preschool in Millcreek, still fears it could close without adequate funding.

She’s been raising interest rates by hundreds of dollars each month to make up for the loss of a stabilization grant and will still “barely break even every month.”

Soter said she couldn’t afford to give her teachers a raise and they all had second jobs.

Childcare workers have always been undervalued when wages are low, Williams said.

According to state data, the median wage for childcare workers is $23,522 per year — $11.31 per hour. The median wage for zoo keepers is $26,615, or $12.80 per hour.

The cost of childcare is driving more parents to transfer or quit their children, switch to remote work, or make other changes to provide care at home instead.

According to KIDS COUNT, 13% of children in Utah lived in families where one parent changed jobs because of childcare issues. Changes may include leaving, not taking on a new job, changing work hours, and more. That was the national rate and higher than 28 other states.

A US Chamber of Commerce survey report found that 34% of Utah women and 28% of Utah men were affected by child care issues.

Enterprises need to be a “fairly robust” part of the solution-making process, said Kabi Catalano, executive director of Utah Community Builders.

There are many options, she said, from providing on-site care, to subsidizing care through flexible employee spending accounts, to contracting with a third-party provider for replacement care.

Lawmakers also need to step up, Williams said.

Advocates have asked for funds to continue stabilization grants, she said. Other potential solutions include a wage supplement and tax credit for childcare providers to help them stay in the industry, she said.

Utah could also expand its child care grant program. Currently, only 9.5 percent of eligible families receive a grant, Williams said.

A child tax credit passed earlier this year is a big help, she said, but analysis has shown it helps “very few people.”

In general, state legislatures have not invested in child care but need to start doing it, Williams said.

Megan Banta is the data reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune. a philanthropic position. The Tribune retains control of all editorial decisions.

Justin Scaccy

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