Access to and the affordability of childcare was a much-discussed topic during Nebraska Farm Bureau policy development meetings last fall. The discussions reflected growing concerns among working parents in rural areas over access to affordable childcare. But access to childcare is not just a Nebraska problem. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a member of the Senate Agricultural Committee, told Brownfield Ag News that she heard a lot about childcare during listening sessions across Minnesota. Moreover, American Farm Bureau has made support of increased access and incentives to provide adequate childcare a part of its 2023 Farm Bill priorities.
Rising childcare costs have factored into the growing concern. According to survey results from the UrbanSitter platform provided to Axios, increases in childcare costs have outpaced inflation over the past two years. Childcare rates nationally rose 9.7 percent in 2022 and 11 percent in 2021. A shortage of childcare workers and growing pay for workers who remain in the field are responsible for the higher costs. The shortage of workers is also restricting access to daycare. The Wall Street Journal reports there are presently 58,000 fewer daycare workers nationwide compared to pre-pandemic. Lack of access and higher costs have compelled some parents to stay home with children rather than work. Anecdotal reports suggest this is occurring in rural Nebraska. Reportedly a school district in rural Nebraska opted to provide childcare when faced with the possibility of a teacher resigning because she was unable to secure childcare.
Rising costs also means affordability of daycare has become problematic. A database developed by the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) provides county-level data on the cost of childcare and can help shed light on affordability. The database categorizes the data according to the age of child—infant, toddler, pre-school, and school-aged—and includes cost information for both center and in-home care. For more information, go to: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/wb/topics/childcare. Figure 1 plots the costs for in-home care of toddlers as a percentage of median family income by county. Parents in Dakota County pay the highest share of income for in-home toddler care at 12.5 percent. The lowest shares are found in Washington and Cass Counties at 6.7 percent. The statewide average is 8.7 percent. The federal government considers an “affordable” share to be 7 percent. Only four counties fall below the federal threshold while thirteen counties equal or exceed 10 percent.
If rural communities hope to grow and attract young families, providing access to affordable childcare will be critical. Awareness of the issue is growing among federal and state officials. But the onus will be on local communities to develop solutions to fit their communities.
Figure 1. Childcare Costs for In Home Toddler Care as a Share of Income
Source: Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, National Database on Childcare Costs