Idaho’s lack of child care has the potential to affect the state’s economy

Increasing costs and lack of workforce has statewide implications, new Kids Count data book suggests

By: - July 6, 2023 4:30 am
Toddlers Playing with Toys

A small group of toddlers sit on the carpet in a home day care as they play together with toy animals. Idaho's lack of affordable child care is leading to parents dropping out of the workforce to care for children at home. (Getty Images)

Idaho is struggling to retain child care workers. That is causing the price of child care to increase, which makes it more difficult for parents to find child care, leading to people quitting their jobs to care for their children at home.

According to a press release from Idaho Voices For Children regarding the latest release of the Kids Count data book, child care challenges cost Idaho’s economy $525 million a year. From 2020 to 2021, 10 percent of Idaho children under age 5 lived in families in which someone quit, changed or refused a job because of problems with child care.

In 2021, full-time infant care cost on average $7,675 per year, nearly as much as a year of tuition at an Idaho public university.

Many Idaho child care centers are unable to retain a workforce

Despite the steep cost of child care, many child care workers and employees have lower hourly wages than individuals who work in food service or retail. According to a report conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Idaho’s median hourly wage in 2022 for child care workers was $10.56 per hour, the fifth lowest in the country. For contrast, many jobs which require less education and licensing, such as fast food restaurants, are offering positions that start at $15.

To retain workers, many child care providers have been pushed to increase wages, which in turn raises the tuition for parents, said Emily Allen, the outreach and policy associate for Idaho Voices for Children.

Federal, state and local governments should invest more in child care, she said. 

“We’re confronting the reality that our culture and our economy has changed,” Allen said. “We’re about to find out what happens at the end of these relief dollars after the pandemic exacerbated a state in which we already did not have enough child care.”

Aside from the financial stress that parents and child care centers are facing, there is a shortage of centers as a whole. According to Allen, prior to the pandemic, a statewide study was conducted and found that 50% of Idaho children live in a “child care desert,” an area where there is a significant shortage of child care. 

This shortage not only affects Idaho parent and child care centers, but the economy as a whole. According to Allen, Idaho needs 20,000 more seats in child care centers to meet the needs of Idaho’s economy right now. With the growth of Idaho’s population, that number of needed open seats is increasing. 

Increasing costs for child care are causing Idaho parents to leave the workforce

“Idaho is going to continue to see help wanted signs everywhere,” Allen said. “We’re going to see in particular mothers leave their professional careers in order to ensure that their children are well cared for.”

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Idaho Voices for Children states that Idaho can begin relieving the issue through incentives for early learning degrees, such as scholarships or loan forgiveness programs. It also stresses the importance of helping parents who are also students by expanding the federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School program, which specifically serves student parents.

“The child care industry is an essential industry within our entire economy,” said Allen. “But it’s the only one that is not receiving sufficient enough support from the state and federal level to keep it propped up and support America’s workforce and Idaho’s workforce in the absence of state investment.”


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Moesha Aplicano Burnham
Moesha Aplicano Burnham

Moesha Aplicano Burnham was interning through Voces Internship of Idaho, and previously interned with Boise Weekly. In high school, Moesha was the Editor-in-Chief of the school's Newspaper, and has loved writing since she could pick up a pencil. She was born and raised in Boise, Idaho, and deeply enjoys learning and writing about local news. In her free time, Moesha enjoys hiking, listening to podcasts, and spending time with her cat.