ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) – It’s called a childcare crisis. Local parents say quality child care is nearly impossible to find and daunting to afford. It’s a pre-pandemic problem that experts say is much worse now.
In fact, Kelly Remick says stress overshadows the joy of being a new mom.
“It was very difficult,” says Kelly.
The University City mother struggled to find childcare she could afford when she went back to work.
“It shouldn’t be that complicated,” she says.
Kelly got on several daycare waiting lists when she was just six weeks pregnant. Months after her child Logan was born, she still didn’t have a place.
“If I can find someone who can keep my child alive, I’ll pay that person to do it,” Kelly said, fighting back tears. “You don’t have to struggle to raise a child if that’s what you want to do.”
Kelly is far from alone. Ask any parent of young children and that’s all they want to talk about. Experts say that as a result of the pandemic, the childcare crisis is worsening across the country, with demand far outweighing supply.
In fact, Missouri officials say compared to pre-pandemic data, there has been a 30% reduction in childcare facilities, with experts adding that both centers and home providers have closed their doors.
It’s so bad that more than half of Missourians live in what’s known as a child care desert. 64% of Missouri’s counties either have no child care providers at all or three times as many children in need of care as there are places available. Black, brown and rural communities, experts say, are often disproportionately affected by the lack of care.
“The cost of child care has risen rapidly over the past few decades,” says Zane Mokhiber of the Economic Policy Institute. The bottom line, experts say, is also a big part of the problem.
The non-profit Economic Policy Institute has put together an interactive website, which shows that the average annual cost of infant care in Missouri is now more than $10,000. That’s 4% more than the average cost of housing and nearly 20% more than in-state tuition for a four-year college.
In Illinois it is even more expensive. The average annual cost of childcare in the County of Lincoln is nearly $13,800, which is 15% more than the average cost of housing and about the same as college tuition.
“Childcare costs are a significant part of most families’ budgets,” adds Mokhiber. But despite high costs for parents, providers say they are far from equal with cash.
“Our stock has increased. Our food has risen incredibly. It’s very expensive,” says Maggie Gray. She runs Brainy Tots Bilingual Preschool from her home in Florissant.
Licensed and accredited, the children receive an education and quality care in a small environment and at a much lower cost than a larger, traditional childcare center.
“We’re always a lower-cost option because we’d be putting ourselves out of the equation if we charged higher fees,” she says. But like all providers, Maggie struggles to keep staff—and make ends meet.
“The moment we lose a child, things get tighter because we don’t have a lot of wiggle room.
Still, while other centers are backed up, she has open spots.
“The view of the home carer is someone who is not well prepared, or well educated,” says Maggie.
A stigma she combats by focusing on the whole child.
“That little guy still needs to learn to put on socks and shoes,” says Maggie.
Some parents are even opting for cheaper options, although this, she says, worries her.
“The first three years are so essential, she says. “But if we spend them watching TV, that’s just not good enough.”
The cost and availability of childcare, experts say, means that many parents, especially women, simply stay at home.
One recent study, published by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, found Missouri’s economy misses out on $1.35 billion due to child care issues, with 28% of people reporting that they, or someone in their household, left a job, not a job have not taken or changed jobs due to childcare problems in the past 12 months.
But there are solutions, experts say, to the complicated childcare equation. Increasing public funding for early childhood development, for one. Plus workplaces that offer flexible hours, pre-tax benefits for dependent care and even on-site childcare.
“Having an on-site daycare right across the street from where you work is just a nice peace of mind,” says Angela Schneider.
Angela works for Purina in downtown St. Louis, which has been offering on-site day care for 30 years.
“It’s convenience, the education these kids get, the safety while they’re here. It’s also the community we have within the employee base,” says Angela.
There are no waiting lists there, just quality care. It’s a welcome relief for working parents trying to balance it all.
Back in University City, Kelly finally heard that Logan will have a daycare spot in June.
“I know we’re in a lucky position, but not all families are like that,” Kelly says.
The childcare equation becomes even more difficult for families with multiple children, and experts say, it’s often hardest in communities of color and for single mothers. Many people have to rely on a combination of care, including grandparents or other caregivers, just to get by.
Parents can find many more resources from Child Care Aware of Missouri.
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