A new report lays out in detail the challenges parents face when securing child care in Montana. The study was done by KIDS COUNT Montana, a project of the non-profit Montana Budget and Policy Center.
“The child care challenges that we're talking about today have existed for many years; they've been highlighted even more as the result of the pandemic," says Xanna Burg, KIDS COUNT Coordinator.
Because of the pandemic, KIDS COUNT Montana decided to look through the child care data once again in the Spring of 2021, around the same time the state received over $200 million in COVID-19 relief funds to support child care and early childhood education.
The goal was to find ways to spend those funds on solutions to Montana's lack of affordable and adequate child care.
According to the report, Montana averages just one child care slot for every three kids under the age of six. It also found the average wage for a childcare worker was just under $11 an hour, or about $23,000 a year. That is less than half the wage of a kindergarten teacher and just barely above the poverty level for a family of three.
"Montana does have this really unique opportunity to think about not only short term solutions to help businesses and help families right now, but how can we think long term and really build the system that we need for Montana," says Burg. “That stood out to us as something that's of concern. If we are talking about building a child care system that works, we need to think about paying living wages to the people that are providing essential care to our children."
Paying workers living wages was not the only solution proposed by the report. They also mentioned using the relief funds to grant child care providers more spots for toddlers and young children, especially in high poverty or rural areas.
“Not addressing the issues that are outlined in this report, really it's going to prolong Montana's recovery. Thinking about the economy as a whole, it's gonna make it harder for businesses to find quality employees. Parents need a reliable and safe place to send their kids in order to show up to work,” says Burg.
KIDS COUNT Montana said labor force participation for mothers with young children dropped 7% between 2019 and 2020 and inadequate childcare costs businesses $55 million and families $145 million in wages.
“Thinking about the big picture, moving our economy forward depends on childcare," says Burg.
Montana KIDS COUNT says they will take their results to the state health advisory commission as they meet and talk about how to use the relief funds.