Many of Boise’s child care facilities are no longer accepting additions to their waitlists. They won’t have openings until next summer, and they’re short on already poorly-paid staff. And those problems are costing Idaho over half a billion dollars every year.
Emily Allen from Idaho Voices for Children joined the City Cast Boise podcast a couple of weeks ago to talk about the emerging crisis.
A collaborative Idaho Stars report released in 2022 warned Idaho of what was around the corner. Surveys of child care facilities predicted program closures, tuition increases, and staff shortages — and now that the funding has ended, each of those impacts are underway.
Why is This Happening Now?
President Biden’s administration put $24 billion of COVID-era American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds into a child care grant program, which was distributed to over 200,000 providers nationally. In Idaho, roughly 80% of child care centers benefited from $138.6 million.
But those funds expired, taking the bottom out of what Allen called an already “fragile” industry that relies almost solely on tuition revenue.
Other states have begun picking up the fiscal slack, but Idaho lawmakers pushed back and forth to even permit the use of already available federal funds earlier this year.
What Will This Mean for Families?
Allen said that while Boise has more child care centers than other parts of the state, our higher cost of living means dual incomes are necessary for most families.
“We need a lot of child care if people want to raise families here … and we’re seeing the end of relief dollars that kept this system open and propped up for the last three years, and now we’re about to see precipitous closures of child care businesses across the city, and it’s really going to hurt working families,” Allen said.
According to federal guidance, families should expect to spend 7% of their monthly budget on child care. Allen said that in actuality most Boise parents are spending double that, ranging up to 20%.
This is also a gendered issue, which Allen hypothesized could be contributing to the lack of alarms being rung about the fiscal cliff. For example, 94% of early care and educational professionals are women, and women are already bearing the brunt of child care labor, both professionally and within families.
What Will This Mean for Idaho’s Economy?
Child care workers make some of the lowest wages across working professions, with many earning a median hourly wage of $12.98, according to the Idaho Stars report.
As Allen pointed out, the strain of low pay has huge implications for centers.
“What center owners are focused on is preserving quality,” Allen said. “The biggest way to preserve quality in a child care center is to have low turnover in your staff. Experience really matters in this industry.”
The financial strain of child care affects other economic sectors as well. For one, quality child care benefits children who become community members and citizens. But more immediately, parents who exit the workforce to take on care duties leave employers needing to fill labor gaps. That in turn can jeopardize the ability for key industries to address other social duties, like retiree care and the service industry.
“This is a multi-generational issue … I’m not sure who it doesn’t affect, to be honest,” Allen said.