In the face of weak economy, child care costs on the rise
Despite data from the U.S. Census showing that 64 percent of women with children under the age of five are in the workforce, Qualistar Colorado's recently published "2012 Signature Report" finds that licensed child care is available to less than 20 percent of young children in Colorado.
According to the report, the recent economic downturn has significantly impacted child care supply and demand-many families have removed their children from organized child care in an effort to save money. Because the child care industry has low profit margins, it is especially difficult for programs to endure extended periods of reduced income. Since 2010, the number of licensed facilities has dropped by more than 10 percent in 25 Colorado counties. In the past year alone, the number of licensed family child care homes in the state has fallen by 5 percent.
Child Care Aware of America's (formerly the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies) recently published report, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2012 Report, finds that Colorado was in the top 10 least affordable states for center-based child care when ranked as a percent of median income. In 2011, the average cost of full-time center-based care for a four-year-old consumed 35 percent of the median annual income of a single mother, and more than 11 percent of median annual income for a two-parent family. For a family living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), the same care required nearly half (49.9 percent) of the family's annual income. According to the Qualistar report, costs of center-based child care for preschoolers in Colorado have risen 9.6 percent in the past year, from an average of $172.98 to $189.65 per week, and will cost families $866 more annually.
Colorado's average annual cost for center-based care for a young child is more expensive than a year's in-state tuition at a public four-year college. Child Care Aware's 2012 Colorado State Fact Sheet reported that average annual tuition and fees for a public four-year college in Colorado in the 2011-2012 school year was $7,849. In 2011, the average annual fee for a four-year-old child in full-time center care was $9,239. In urban areas of the state, Qualistar estimates that the average annual price of full-time licensed care for a toddler is as high as $11,775.
"Families need child care in order to work," said Ollie M. Smith, Child Care Aware's Interim Executive Director, in a press release for their new report. "But, child care today is simply unaffordable for too many families. This is not a low-income issue. Families at nearly every income-except for the very wealthy-struggle with the cost of child care."
Quality and affordable child care is an integral component of a safe and stimulating childhood, the Bell's second gateway. It improves school readiness for children, and is crucial for parents engaged in the labor force. Both reports show that child care in Colorado remains largely unaffordable or unavailable to many families, and is unprofitable for many child care professionals. These issues are compounded by a surprising lack of research regarding both program quality and effective approaches for improvement. As the reports highlight, child care needs to be addressed innovatively.
"There's really not a magic bullet that we're waiting to uncover," said Qualistar's vice president for information strategy, Stacy Buchanan. "I think we have to engage everybody that we can and really have folks realize that it does impact them, even if they are not necessarily a parent."
- Kathleen Hallgren
Article posted on August 22, 2012