Affordable child care is another illusion in the desert.
I drive by a sign in front of a daycare center near my house almost daily. “Childcare!” it reads. $170 per week for each child, full-time!” Each time I pass it, I am left wondering how any parent, much alone single parents, can afford nearly $700 per month in childcare for a single child, let alone those with two or three children. And then I wonder when childcare become such an exclusive commodity that it is only affordable to people earning a certain wage level. What do parents who cannot afford thousands of dollars in childcare bills do, and is it even possible to locate safe, inexpensive childcare?
In Nevada, the problem of childcare is taken to the next level. It is not only prohibitively expensive, but also nearly impossible to locate. Apart from being literally in the desert, a large portion of the state is dubbed a “childcare desert.” According to the Center for American Progress, 72% of Nevada residents live in locations classified as daycare deserts, which means there are just not enough childcare facilities to go around. And for those families who do secure daycare, the average annual cost is roughly $20,000, or 32% of their typical income for two children. Nevada’s shortfall is exceeded only by Utah, where 77 percent of citizens live in a childcare desert, and the situation is not much better in other parts of the country, where more than 51% of parents live in childcare deserts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded this problem, transforming it into a serious crisis, since many daycare centers have been forced to permanently close their doors due to declining membership. When parents attempt to return to work, they discover that the care providers they relied on prior to the pandemic have ceased operations, and those that remain have months-long waiting lists.
Families unable to obtain care for their children frequently have to sacrifice their own professions, with one parent resigning or couples working opposite shifts. As someone who did this for years with my now-ex, I can attest that this type of piecemeal childcare can be quite taxing on relationships. And for single parents struggling to pay astronomical monthly fees or having their children languish on interminable waiting lists for any type of affordable care, the issue affects not only the parents, but also the children, who may be forced to forego other necessities to help their parents pay for childcare.
Now that the globe has reopened, several firms have expressed concern about a lack of job candidates, and several states have opted out of the supplementary unemployment premium, which pays an additional weekly stipend to individuals receiving unemployment in the hope of re-employment. However, for some parents, the expense of returning to work far outweighs their prospective earnings, and locations that were previously struggling to offer adequate childcare now have even less available, and nearly none that is affordable.
The Biden administration submitted the American Families Act last spring, which includes provisions for universal access to free Pre-K for children ages three to four and a ceiling on childcare fees for certain income levels.
This approach, in theory, will offer parents with sufficient aid to enable them to work without jeopardizing their children’s safety and health, thereby mitigating the challenges generated by daycare deserts.
Childcare shortages in the United States have long been disregarded by many of the same groups that have the most to say about topics such as a woman’s right to choose and promote the preservation of “family” while ignoring the real-world problems of today’s parents.
Increasing childcare options while keeping them reasonable and accessible to families is the best way to preserve family of any sort, and parents need to feel confident that their children are being effectively cared for while they work. Rather than treating childcare as a fantasy, we must transform childcare deserts into havens of safe, inexpensive, and plentiful care.