Utah’s early childcare crisis has been called an epidemic by some state experts and advocates who recently met with legislators at the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee meeting to discuss the shortage of childcare options, especially for low-income, working families with children.
Utah Women in Leadership founding director Susan Madsen is an adviser to Gov. Spencer Cox on his One Utah Roadmap initiative.
She works with issues like equality, opportunity, and improving racial and gender disparities in Utah. Last month, she presented to state lawmakers who sit on the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee. Legislators on the committee listened to more than an hour and a half of childcare advocates’ testimony on access to affordable, quality childcare in Utah.
“I have seen the importance of childcare in so many elements of almost everything that I've talked about,” Madsen said.
Madsen said the demographics in Utah are shifting from traditional, two-parent households with a mother at home and a father who is working. She told the committee that for centuries childcare had been considered a woman's problem. Instead, she argued that it is a critical part of a thriving economy.
“Childcare, in general, is important to men, it's important to children, it's important to families, it's important to communities, governments and businesses,” she said. “So, the research continues to build on the connection between childcare and the economy."
Madsen said the current number of licensed childcare programs and available slots is not close to meeting Utah's needs.
“Over 150,000 children in Utah under six are potentially needing childcare … Yet only about 41,000 slots are available in formal childcare programs, and only 22,000 kids in Utah were in programs that were licensed by the state,” she said.
Madsen said a licensed childcare program is the minimum requirement for health and safety and doesn't account for the program's quality or school readiness.
"The number of children who need childcare in the United States is striking,” she said. “One recent study in the U.S. concluded that a lack of childcare options costs the U.S. economy $57 billion per year in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue.”
She pointed to research showing about 60% of women and 76% of men are in Utah's workforce. Sixty-two percent of women have children 0 to 6 years old. Seventy-six percent of working women have children 6 to 17 years old.
“If you're a single mother in the state of Utah, 40% are living in poverty,” Madsen said.
Madsen is the inaugural Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership. For 12 years, she has been the founding director of the Utah Women in Leadership Project at Utah State University.
KPCW news reports on issues affecting young children and their parents are brought to you by the Park City Community Foundation’s Early Childhood Fund. For more information, visit earlychildhoodalliance.net.