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Parents face fewer childcare options, rising costs in Washington

In Washington State, new data shows child care can cost more than a semester of college.

WASHINGTON, USA — Child care was difficult to find long before COVID-19 hit Washington state, however, the prolonged pandemic has made paying for, and even finding child care, even harder. 

Many parents end up having to place their children on waitlists while others can't find anywhere for their kids to go. 

“Depending on where you are, there are places in our state that we call child care deserts, like there literally is not a licensed child care available near where the family either lives or works,” explained Lisa Brown, the director of the Washington State Department of Commerce. 

“When it is available, it's in short supply so there are waiting lists. It's expensive, it can be as expensive as college tuition,” Brown said.

Washington's child care industry is also grappling with high staff turnover due to low wages, further aggravating the issue. A release from the Child care Collaborative Taskforce revealed the industry is dealing with a turnover rate of 43%.  

"The ability to compensate providers is a key part of this, because if they're not well compensated, and frankly, our study found they earn about $15 an hour, then they're likely to leave the profession," Brown said.  

Child care workers' families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as the families of workers in other professions, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute. 

Although workers are often compensated less in child care than in other jobs, costs for parents continue to rise, even forcing some to quit to stay home with their children. 

An Everett parent spoke to KING 5 about her decision to stay home with her children, even though that wasn't originally her plan.  

“My husband works full time in the HVAC industry. I stay home with the two kids, a two-year-old and a three-month-old while running my online business,” said Ashley Dreager. “Originally, I had no intention of staying home and being a stay-at-home mom. I loved my job but when Covid hit, there was a lot of concern about keeping her in daycare, and the daycare that she was at raised their rates almost 20%.” 

Ashley is actively looking for child care but high prices have become a barrier. “If it was more affordable, it would make everything so much easier.”

So how expensive is daycare in Washington State? 

In Washington, infant care costs can be comparable to college tuition. The average cost of licensed infant care can be about 20% of an average family's income. If families have two children in need of care, those costs jump to 35%. Costs hit child care workers especially hard, requiring more than half of their earnings to put their own child in infant care. 

In 2018, Washington lawmakers created the Child Care Collaborative Task Force with the goal of creating affordable and accessible child care for every family in Washington by 2025. 

“It's been working on this conundrum of having child care that is both affordable for parents, and high quality and safe and compensates the providers well,” explained Brown. “I'm hopeful, in five years, we will both significantly expand the supply of child care providers in family homes and centers and, at the same time, the state will be coming in with support for more and more moderate-income families to qualify for that subsidy that helps put the whole system together.”

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