Opinion: I’ve spent more than $3,000 on child care in one month. Here is one way Utah could better support families.

Child care is essential infrastructure for the continued growth and health of our state — not a luxury.

(Leah Willingham | The Associated Press) Children play on a rubber playground purchased in part with the support of pandemic-era stabilization aid on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

In September 2023, my husband and I spent $3,150 on child care. This wasn’t for a luxurious vacation with our nanny with five kids under 5. It was for our two children, ages 2 and 5, so my husband and I could work our 9-to-5 jobs.

Our nanny had just gone back to school, prompting us to enroll our youngest in daycare to cover the hours of her classes. The cost was $740 a month for part-time (a strict 20 hours) or $920 for full-time (21-40+ hours a week). We opted for full-time, anticipating possible sick days or emergencies with our nanny.

Quickly, reality hit. With a steep mortgage, rising food prices and a well-deserved raise for our nanny, we couldn’t financially manage the extra almost $1,000 a month for daycare. After just two months, we pulled our daughter out.

We consider ourselves fortunate: My job allows my 5-year-old to hang out for an hour at my office after preschool, and my husband’s job is fully remote. Our flexible hours help stretch the child care we have, but raising kids in today’s economy is undeniably exhausting.

Acknowledging our privilege, with strong earning power, homeownership and past child care assistance from family, we still feel anxious and overwhelmed every month as we juggle work, child care and the increasing costs of essentials.

Utah claims to be a “family-friendly” state, but for whom? A recent UC Berkeley study linked financial stress during COVID to a 205.2% increase in perceived stress and a 112.1% increase in perceived sadness in children. Utah’s median household income is just above $87,000 a year, and having two children in daycare for a year could easily approach $24,000 — more than a quarter of a family’s income. Rent prices across the state have surged in the last three years, and child care rates are climbing without sufficient state and federal support to balance the need for quality care at an affordable cost and fair wages for providers.

Additionally, Utah’s birthrate, once the highest in the nation, is dropping. If Utah genuinely wants to be family-friendly, it needs policies that support families. A straightforward solution would be a significant boost in funding for Utah’s Child Tax Credit.

While a Utah bill for a Child Tax Credit was passed in 2023, its impact is limited. Only families paying at least $1,000 in state taxes and earning less than $54,000 a year are eligible to receive it. In reality, almost no one qualifies and, even if they do, the stipend amounts to only approximately $80 a month. Moreover, it only covers children ages 1 to 3, leaving out other kids — including preschoolers — who still depend on paid child care resources outside the public school system. The narrow scope of this tax credit not only limits its effectiveness but also excludes the very families that need it the most, despite contributing to taxes through their daily purchases.

On the flip side, the Federal Child Tax Credit during COVID was a massive success, providing about $300 per child per month. In just six months, it led to a 46% reduction in child poverty in the United States. Beyond the moral imperative to care for children, reducing child poverty has widespread benefits, from improved physical and mental health to higher educational attainment and reduced risky behaviors.

Parents find themselves in a bind where they must work to make ends meet but can’t afford reliable child care. This dilemma underscores the urgent need for family-friendly policies in Utah. As families grapple with the economic challenges of today, policymakers must prioritize initiatives that genuinely support families, ensuring the well-being of children and fostering community prosperity. Child care is essential infrastructure that is absolutely necessary for the continued growth and health of our state. It is most certainly not a luxury.

Rhiannon McDaniel

Rhiannon McDaniel, MSW, CSW, is a forensic social work research analyst and mom of two children, 2 and 5. She lives in Holladay and volunteers with Utah Care for Kids.

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