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Rural Communities Feel Lack of Child Care Options More Acutely

When parents’ options of child care arrangements are limited and they are unable to access care, it impacts their ability to participate in the workforce – either opting out entirely or limiting the hours they work. Because of the general nature and characteristics of rural communities, the options for child care in those communities are felt more acutely.

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Understanding the rural child care landscape

In August 2021, BPC and Morning Consult surveyed parents in rural America to determine their needs and access to child care. We’ve also analyzed the child care gap in 35 states and the economic impact of the gap to better understand how child care access and the workforce are connected in rural America.

The average gap between the potential need for care and the current supply is 31.7% across 35 states. This gap is even wider in rural communities, with the average percent gap in supply being 35.1%. Though this data is focused on potential need for child care, not the direct demand, it is consistent with other BPC survey responses.

When asked about their current arrangements, 45% of rural parents surveyed said that either they or their spouse provide care for their child. But 25% of rural parents said that themselves or their spouse providing child care is their preferred option. This shift between current and preferred arrangements demonstrates an interest in other child care arrangements. Specifically, child care centers, part-day Pre-K programs, and Head Start programs are preferred options by an additional 3%, 9%, and 8% respectively, compared to the parents’ current arrangements for child care.

Rural communities need a greater supply of formal child care

Of the rural parents who are not working, 86% cite child care responsibilities as influencing that decision. A 2019 BPC nationwide survey found that 66% of parents said that child care affects the number of hours they can work. These are parents who could return to the workforce if the child care supply was there.

Parents missing from the workforce will impact the economy and could cost the economy between $32.79 and $49.93 billion dollars over the next 10 years through direct losses of household and business taxes, loss of productivity and household income, and does not include any related indirect economic impacts.

Determining the cost of the child care gap is long overdue. Cost estimation models may show that child care in smaller communities are more expensive, not less. But if our economy is going to recover fully we are going to need to make sure rural parents are represented in the workforce.

For more information on child care in rural communities, watch last year’s event, “Child Care in Rural America – What Have We Learned.

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