Child care shortage will also hit Utah economy, Editorial Board writes. What we can do about it.

Affordability is the primary driver for Utah parents in choosing a child care provider.

Ask any working parent, and they’ll bemoan their experience with finding child care in Utah. It’s hard to come by and, relatively speaking, expensive.

And it’s likely to get even worse.

Utah parents, and parents across the country, will see prices increase and availability shrink, as one of the last of the pandemic era subsidies expires this month.

During COVID-19, Utah received nearly $600 million to support its child care sector and expanded the number of slots available to families — funding services for an estimated 85,200 children, per The Tribune’s Megan Banta. The state’s Office of Child Care has said it will reduce stabilization grants by 75% in October.

This is as much an issue of economics as it is an issue of finding good, quality care for our children.

In Utah, child care issues result in a $1.36 billion loss in revenue each year, according to the Utah Chamber of Commerce. Single-income households spend less and pay less in taxes, meanwhile productivity overall takes a hit.

Men have dominated the workplace, but recent data show the percentage of women in the workforce with kids under 5 is higher than it’s ever been, per a national report from the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. Experts think one of the biggest factors is remote work, which gives women the flexibility they need. They also say women returning to the workforce has helped prop up the economy this year, as we’ve weathered inflation and higher interest rates.

Affordability is the primary driver for Utah parents in choosing a child care provider. The average annual cost for child care for toddlers in Utah is more than $8,000 and for infants it’s more than $9,000. Utah’s median household income in 2021 — the most recent data available — was $79,133, which means some parents are spending more than 10% of their income on child care.

And yet many child care providers say they’re barely making ends meet. Nationally, an estimated 70,000 child care programs — or about 1 in 3 — could close as a result of lost funding, causing 3.2 million children to lose care, according to a study by the Century Foundation, the Washington Post recently reported.

There are ways to make an investment in families without relying on federal stimulus, here in Utah. Companies can offer on-site care. We know this is a significant commitment, but it also can be a powerful retention tool.

There are other solutions that take less time and fewer resources. Leadership can offer dependent care flexible spending accounts. Or a child care directory for employees. And support groups for new parents, with those who have recently navigated child care in the area.

Utah Community Builders, which earlier this year released a guide for family-friendly workplaces, for example, offers more solutions.

Beyond the purview of a company or business leader, our government can support growing families. It could deliver stronger tax credits for parents, for example. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney has introduced legislation that would strengthen tax credits for families with children, though it has been criticized for failing to support the poorest families.

Finally, the nonprofit sector has long supported and will continue to lift up Utah kids. Children’s Service Society of Utah is offering would-be providers and parents material support.

We all know Utah is the youngest state in the nation. We’re also among the fastest growing, but birth rates are on the decline.

If we do not solve for our child care shortage and cost issues, the economy as a whole will be impacted. This goes far beyond parents and would-be parents who are trying to figure out how to make it work.

Child care disruptions will hit nursing and teaching ranks, which are already short staffed, as well as countless other employers. Every working parent wants safe, affordable child care for their children. And, our businesses need a stable workforce that isn’t defeated by the cost of care or worried about how to care for their children while providing for them financially.

While many of us have moved beyond the acute care an infant or a toddler needs, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remind business leaders and public officials that quality, affordable childcare is not only family-friendly, it’s a cornerstone of a strong community.