This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
White men don't get it.
How else to explain child care in Utah?
In most states, women are at least one quarter of the legislature. In Utah, there are six women to 29 men in the Senate and 10 women to 75 men in the House. And, of course, it's a super-Mormon Republican majority. A whopping 88 percent are LDS.
This lack of diversity costs Utah women women of all races and creeds and the state, big time.
A recent focus group, for Women in the Economy Commission, showed that child care is the number one concern of women throughout the state of Utah.
The U.S. Census Bureau's 2015 American Community Survey showed that at least 62 percent of Utah families have a significant need for safe, healthy child care services.
Yet quality and affordable options are severely limited.
According to the National Economic Policy Institute the average annual cost of infant care in Utah is $8,641 ($720 per month). Child care for a 4-year-old costs $6,612 ($551 each month). That means infant care is more expensive in Utah than college. Clearly our state's middle class is being priced out of child care.
As for minimum-wage earners in Utah, they would need to work full time for 30 weeks just to pay for child care for one infant.
For extremely low-income families, the federal government funds the excellent Head Start programs that provide early education for children up to the age of five. However, to qualify for Head Start a family of four has to earn less than $24,600 per year.
The state is a bit more helpful offering subsidies to help pay for child care options for those families who make below $39,612 and up to $49,524 (56 percent or less of the state median income) and they must also meet a minimum work requirement to quality for these subsidies.
This lack of affordable, dependable child care options limits our economic structure and stunts a family's ability to make the best decisions regarding children, education, career and personal finances.
I called round a few state agencies and the message back was, "We're looking into it."
Tracy S. Gruber, director of the Office of Child Care at Work Force Services, says, "Utah's Office of Child Care is currently conducting an extensive needs assessment to evaluate whether there are gaps in child care access throughout the state."
I was happy to hear that Gruber "gets it."
Gruber says, "An effective and extensive child care system is critical to the state's economy in two ways it ensures parents are able to maintain employment. It also provides a healthy and safe environment to support their children's development through a caring network of child care providers. They play a critical role in ensuring those children will be contributors to the economy when they become parents."
But the problem doesn't end with how financially inaccessible child care is. Availability in child care programs is low and wait lists are extremely long, with many providers having waiting lists for infants for a year or possibly more. Utah only has 327 licensed child care centers, and 879 in-home licensed child care providers.
As of October 2016, the total number of child care slots in the state is 39,501. Yet the total number of children under 5 is 254,653, according to the 2015 census compare that to the number of working moms (60-plus percent) and the numbers just don't add up.
Then there are the hours child care is available. Almost all child care options are during regular office hours. What happens when a mother has to work odd shifts such as in a call center or a retail store or if she has to work overtime?
The Utah Legislature needs to prioritize this crucial issue. They need to listen to their female constituents who have voiced their concerns over the lack of child care and establish universalized access to child care services.
Dr. Susan Madsen a professor at UVU's Woodbury School of Business, director of the Utah Women and Education Initiative and the Utah Women and Leadership Project says she is excited at the new studies that are happening right now and she hopes that they will provide ammunition to get male legislators' attention.
"Here in Utah, we have a unique culture and higher costs due to the number of children. The Utah women's coalition and the YWCA are working to put this on everyone's radar. This has to be a bigger issue and we need to help the white men in our legislature understand it. Something needs to happen."
Patricia Quijano Dark is an editor and translator working for local companies, nonprofits and the Kaiser Foundation. Previously, she was editor of Utah's award-winning Spanish language newspaper OKespañol and executive director of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She has worked for publications in Argentina and Great Britain.