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Childcare in Iowa

There are two basic issues with childcare that affect peoples’ ability to join or stay in the workforce: the cost of quality childcare and the lack of slots for certain age groups or times.

Just how bad is the cost of childcare? Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) puts the average annual cost for infant care at a licensed center in Iowa at $10,858, and $9,217 for a 3-year old – that is $905 and $768 per month respectively. This means a family making the median income in Iowa ($76,674) would spend over 14% of their income to pay for just one infant in childcare at a center. The US Department of Health and Human Services considers affordable childcare to be 7% of a family’s income. In Iowa, this would equate to a family income of $155,114 to affordably obtain care for one infant in a licensed center – or $131,671 for one 3-year old. The cost of childcare is higher than the cost of tuition at one of our public four-year universities! While some assistance is available from the state to help very low income families pay for childcare – parents who earn less than $23,230 a year – it only reimburses childcare providers at 45% of the market rate for childcare, so they may be reluctant to accept children who are reliant on assistance. And worse for parents, if they go over the income threshold, there is no sliding scale assistance – it is just a cliff, where getting a raise really means an overall steep cut.

Are there really no slots? According to the Center for American Progress, 23% of people in Iowa live in what is called a childcare desert – any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that have no licensed or registered childcare providers, or so few that there are three times as many children than slots. In rural areas, this percentage jumps to 35%. A search of Iowa’s Department of Human Services Child Care Portal turns up a list of over 4,200 childcare providers in the state with over 158,000 slots total, but only three indicate that they offer weekend or evening/overnight care. A slot is not just an opening for any child at any time. Safety regulations for childcare providers include child-staff ratios by age group – for example, the ratio of staff to children for children under two is 1:4. Trying to maintain ratios and balance childcare need schedules is tricky, and often leads to slots left unfilled. Regulations also dictate the square footage needed per child in classrooms and playgrounds, so downsizing is not an option. Other costs include insurance, activities/transportation, food and supplies. In addition, finding childcare workers is a challenge – as with all businesses right now. Wages for childcare workers are extremely low, especially given the education and ongoing professional development required, and balancing ratios can lead to irregular work schedules. Here is a quick video from Child Care Aware of America that touches on why childcare is so expensive, yet childcare workers make so little.

Do your part – educate your legislators about the issues facing parents and providers. Talk to them about cost and regulations. Review and share the 2019 report from ChildCare Aware of America: The US and the High Price of Child Care: An Examination of a Broken System which includes a section on policy recommendations for states and the federal government. Share examples from this same report with your businesses about how they can support childcare for their workers through cost reimbursements, community care sponsorships, subsidizing back-up childcare, and even on-site childcare.