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Hall: Utah’s Childcare Needs to Change

We must address the challenges confronting Utah parents and childcare providers, to unearth solutions that would alleviate the consequences of the childcare crisis.
The UKids Playground at the Emery Alfred Building in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. (Photo By Sophie Felici | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


The soaring cost of childcare in the United States, including Utah, continues to haunt families. Parents often confront the daunting prospect of childcare fees equivalent to in-state college tuition, transforming it into a financial burden that weighs heavily on their shoulders. This issue leads to far-reaching consequences, impacting both families and childcare providers alike.

In Utah, the availability of affordable and easily accessible childcare options has become increasingly scarce, forcing parents into a harrowing dilemma. By exploring the challenges confronting Utah parents and childcare providers, we can unearth potential solutions to alleviate the consequences of the childcare crisis in Utah.

We must prioritize accessible, affordable and supportive childcare options for families in need to mitigate the burdens that they currently face.

Financial Strain

Utah families encounter a predicament as they grapple with the insurmountable costs of childcare. These costs form a substantial barrier to employment for parents — particularly those with young children. When childcare expenses match or surpass what a working parent could earn, it dissuades individuals from staying in the workforce. This affects the economic well-being of these families, and also leads to reduced labor force participation.

Yazgi Genc, a graduate economics student at the University of Utah, said the average cost of a year of childcare for an infant in Utah is about “11.5% of the median family income.” If we want to make childcare more affordable, “it needs to be no more than 7% of the family income.”

Utah’s childcare crisis disproportionately affects low-income families. These families frequently confront the challenging decision of either working to provide for their households or staying at home to tend to their children. This predicament compels these families to balance the financial advantages of employment against their children’s emotional and social development. In a state witnessing a rising cost of living, easily accessible childcare options become indispensable. They are essential for low-income families striving to break free from the cycle of poverty.

Especially with Utah’s reputation for large families, the ongoing childcare crisis demands resolution — yet we’re still grappling with this issue. Utah’s long-standing tradition of close-knit, multigenerational families has undoubtedly played a role in fostering a sense of collective support and caregiving.

In the past, it was more common to see extended family members to help care for children. However, the modern workforce often demands dual-income households, with both parents actively contributing to the family’s financial stability. As Utah’s population grows and diversifies, not all families have the same access to extended family resources. Economic pressures and changing societal norms have made it difficult for parents to rely solely on these traditional support systems.

The Struggles of Childcare Providers

Childcare providers face substantial challenges when offering affordable services. Escalating operational costs, including rent, utilities and insurance make it difficult to maintain lower rates. Moreover, the commitment to creating a safe and enriching environment for children demands investments in quality staffing and resources — contributing further to rising costs.

“If a provider provides high-quality childcare, then the cost increases even more,” said Genc.

Consequently, providers find themselves in a difficult position. They must grapple between affordability for parents and the imperative of upholding the quality of care.

One critical element of the childcare crisis is the underpayment of childcare workers. Many dedicated individuals who opt to work in this field receive meager wages — often failing to reflect the significance of their role in early childhood development.

“The average childcare worker’s wage is $15 per hour,” said Genc. “The median wage for all occupations in the state [is] around $21.”

Low wages pose challenges in both attracting and retaining skilled and experienced childcare workers. This shortfall in compensation can result in children receiving lower-quality care and education than they deserve.

The Consequences

The absence of accessible childcare options in Utah compels parents to confront challenging career decisions. Some choose to exit the workforce. Others cut back on their work hours to care for their children — impeding their career advancement and financial stability. Some parents may opt to switch jobs in search of positions that provide flexible hours or employer-sponsored childcare benefits.

According to Genc, about 65% of women with children under six years old participate in the labor force in Utah, which is less than the U.S. average of about 75%.

40% of the employed women in Utah are working part-time, which is a high number,” said Genc. This is the highest rate in the country. These career choices, stemming from the childcare crisis, bear enduring consequences on income and career progression.

High-quality early childhood education and care holds a pivotal role in shaping child development. Nonetheless, the childcare crisis in Utah obstructs children’s access to such quality care. Inadequate resources, overcrowded facilities and high staff turnover adversely affect the educational and emotional development of young children. These many issues have long-term repercussions, affecting young children’s school readiness and prospects.

How Can We Alleviate This Burden?

The childcare crisis in Utah presents a multifaceted challenge that impacts families, childcare providers and the state’s overall economic landscape. To tackle this issue, Utah must prioritize the establishment of accessible and affordable childcare options. This involves subsidizing childcare for low-income families and increasing investments in early childhood education. It also includes advocating for both improved wages and working conditions for childcare providers.

Through these comprehensive measures, Utah can lighten the burden on families, bolster the childcare industry and ensure that its youngest citizens receive the necessary care and education they deserve. Accessible and affordable childcare is not merely a matter of family well-being — it’s a vital component of the Beehive state’s future prosperity.


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About the Contributor
Lexi Hall
Lexi Hall, Opinion Writer
(she/her) Lexi is double majoring in English and Communications with an emphasis in Journalism at the University of Utah. She is from Las Vegas, Nevada, and came to Salt Lake City because she loves the outdoors. Lexi spends most of her time reading books and going to concerts with friends. She hopes one day to become an English Professor and a Journalist.

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