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Report: Oregon child care costs rising dramatically as wages fail to keep up

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The cost of child care in Oregon has risen dramatically even as wages remained flat or increased slightly over the past decade, resulting in what researchers are calling a crisis for families.

According to a new report looking at child care in the state and in every Oregon county, child care prices increased 7 percent more than family incomes from 2004 to 2010. And for single parents, the situation is more serious: their child care prices increased 14 more than their incomes during that same period.

The average cost of toddler care in a child care center in Oregon is now $10,392, almost $4,000 more than the average annual cost of college tuition in the state.

Furthermore, the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies lists Oregon as the seventh most expensive state for child care in the nation, with Massachusetts ranking highest. In 36 states, the average annual cost for center-based care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition at a four-year public college.

“This issue of affordability is huge,” said Bobbie Weber, a faculty research associate in the Family Policy Program at Oregon State University and author of the report along with Becky Vorpagel, an independent consultant for the Oregon Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

 “Families are facing serious challenges, and they want to do the right thing for their children, but faced with these unbearable costs, they do what they can to make it work.”

Survey findings show more low-income families are using free child care services, including asking relatives or friends to look after their children. For those who do not have a viable free option, it can mean making tough decisions.

“High quality care, which involves little or no screen time, healthy food, a ton of physical exercise and many activities that support cognitive and social development, is what parents want for their children,” Weber said. “The cost of getting quality care and education is not possible for many Oregonians, including many in the middle class.”

“Families making under $28,000 a year are spending 29 percent of their income just on child care, compared to families at the top income bracket who spend 7 percent of their income,” she said. “The care is the same price for everyone, and a family of three who makes around $34,000 often find themselves in a difficult situation of choosing between work and quality care for their children.”

While there are subsidies available for those earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, parents have to pay part of their subsidies and that amount rises as incomes rise. Weber said in some cases, the co-pay is more than the child care itself.  Budget cuts continue to constrain how many families can be served.

Weber is a member of the Gov. John Kitzhaber’s Early Learning Council, which has been tasked to design the most effective early-childhood education system, one that will ensure children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. Weber said child care is one of the many issues related to early childhood that the council is tackling.

A full report on each county in Oregon can be found at: http://health.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/sbhs/pdf/occrp-state--county-profiles-2010.pdf

Some of the county findings include:

  • The most expensive county in Oregon for child care was Washington County, where the average cost was $11,880 for toddler care. Benton and Multnomah counties followed closely as the most expensive.
  • Rural counties in general suffer from a lack of resources. Many rural areas do not have enough family day care providers or child care centers to meet the needs of the communities.
  • In the average child care center, teachers earn between $9 and $13 an hour, even though many have post-secondary education in their field. Finding qualified workers willing to work for near-minimum wage salaries poses a challenge for centers.
  • More than half of parents reported that their children did not get a lot of individual attention in their child care and 46 percent said the arrangement was not ideal for their child. Almost 19 percent said their children do not feel safe and secure at their daycare facility.
  • The average minimum wage worker is spending almost 60 percent of their income on child care.
  • Low-income families are finding ways to not pay for child care, with a 7 percent drop since 2004 in those who report using paid care. However, the amount of children and low-income families in Oregon has risen during that same time.
About the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences: The College creates connections in teaching, research and community outreach while advancing knowledge, policies and practices that improve population health in communities across Oregon and beyond.

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