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Families in Rural Communities Face Acute Child Care Challenges

Resource October 13, 2021

Access to high-quality child care is a challenge for many Americans. In fact, 31.7% of children below the age of six with all parents in the workforce come from families without access to formal child care facilities. However, families living in rural areas are particularly affected by supply issues and experience disproportionately high rates of child care need. This alarming statistic, along with other critical findings regarding the lack of supply of child care in rural America, was discussed on a recent Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) webinar: “Child Care in Rural America: Where Are We Now?”. 

The webinar highlighted the results of a study of 35 states prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in which researchers sought to understand the supply of, need for, and gap in child care. After collecting state data and surveying 564 rural parents with a child under age five with at least one member of the household employed, researchers found a significant supply gap between parents’ access to child care facilities in urban and rural areas.  

Even though urban communities often have a higher potential need, rural areas are more underserved in terms of child care supply. As evidenced by the graph below, child care need is typically larger in rural areas than urban areas. Within rural areas, families living in larger communities are more likely to have access to the child care programs that were tested in this study, which include child care centers, part-day Pre-K programs, Head Start programs, and Family Child Care Homes.

Not only do rural families face the challenge of finding child care, but they also have to travel further in order to access child care, which causes a serious hindrance to accessibility. Among children receiving subsidies, parents in urban areas lived around 3.5 miles from their child care arrangement, while rural parents lived 10 miles from theirs. 

Survey results of rural working parents found that nearly half (45%) say they or their spouse/partner provide care for their youngest child. However, if child care were free and in a convenient location, 25% of rural parents would like to personally provide care for their child, and 22% would prefer a child care center. Cost prohibits some rural families from choosing their preferred child care option. Among parents who considered a formal child care arrangement but currently use informal care, 55% say program costs most influenced their decision to not use a formal arrangement. 

Additionally, the lack of child care options available for rural parents influences parents’ decisions to work. Among rural parents who they or their spouse/partner are not currently working, over 4 in 5 say child care responsibilities influenced their decision to not work, including 64% who said it significantly influenced their decision. Gaps in access to child care affect not only children and their parents. America’s astounding child care gaps also produce an economic burden on households, businesses, and tax revenues. According to BPC, the economic impact of the child care gap in rural areas falls between $32.79 and $49.93 billion (all estimates represent the initial year’s economic loss plus the residual burden over the next 10 years).

While many rural families prefer to stay home with their children, trust, cost, and the quality of care were the main considerations in deciding whether to use a child care provider. The Build Back Better Act includes provisions that would help rural families have access to affordable, accessible, and high-quality child care options that work best for their family. Some key provisions include:

  • Cutting spending in half for most American families, including providing low-and middle-income families with subsidies so that they pay no more than 7% of their income on child care.
  • Permanently expanding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) and making it fully refundable. This would enable all families earning up to $125,000 to recover as much as half of their child care expenses for children under age 13, a total of $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children.
  • Extending the American Rescue Plan’s (ARP) Child Tax Credit (CTC) increases from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child 6 and above, and $3,600 for children under 6, and making it fully refundable.
  • Providing high-quality, free, inclusive, and mixed-delivery preschool services for all three- and four-year-old children on a voluntary basis.
  • Instituting paid family and medical leave, which would make it easier for parents to care for their children under extraordinary circumstances. 
  • Increasing the compensation of child care workers to ensure they earn a wage commensurate with their skills and experience, as well as increasing professional development and training opportunities. 

To view the full webinar, click here

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