Rising childcare costs impacting Nebraska families

6 News WOWT Live at 6:30
Published: Dec. 23, 2022 at 10:58 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - As Nebraska families prepare for the holidays, inflation is forcing parents to pay more for goods and services, including childcare. Rates have nearly doubled for Nebraska parents over a two-year period and ‘Lincoln Littles,’ an organization in Lincoln, is working to bridge the gap for families.

McCamey McKinley is balancing life as a wife, first-time mom and dental student. After welcoming baby Ella a year ago, McCamey and her husband Caleb knew they would need to find childcare.

“In my mind I’m like, ‘what are we going to do if we can’t find a daycare for her?’” she said. “Like neither one of us can just drop out of school.”

After being on several waitlists, a spot opened for Ella at the UNL Children’s Center.

“The UNL daycare literally has been amazing,” McCamey said. “They do so well with Ella. Every time we leave her there, I know they care about her like Caleb and I do. Which is just such a blessing to feel super comfortable at the daycare you’re leaving your kids at, just because they’re spending so much time with her.”

It was a huge relief because as a dental student, McCamey also scores a much needed discount, since she and Caleb were both students this time last year.

“We did apply for that and we did get some financial assistance for daycare,” McCamey said. “Which was great when we didn’t have any income, other than paying to go to school as students.”

Childcare is a huge expense for parents. Suzanne Schneider and Anne Brandt with ‘Lincoln Littles’ are working to help families afford high quality care in early childhood education.

“The cost of childcare has and continues to be higher than it costs for a year of tuition in a college,” Schneider said.

In fact, childcare costs have nearly doubled in Nebraska. According to Lincoln Vital Signs, the average cost of childcare in Lincoln in 2019 was $7,519 compared to $14,098 in 2021. That’s an 87% increase over two years. The McKinley’s are paying about $1,000 a month with their discount.

Joshua Zosky and Molly McPherson are in the same boat. They’re married with a 3-year-old daughter and they’re both PhD students at UNL. They’re neither full-time students nor full-time workers so they don’t qualify for extra assistance.

“And so, we could only pay for, in that sense, a half a week of childcare with supplement,” Zosky said. Their daughter, Maura, now attends UNL Children’s Center full time thanks to help from family.

Childcare costs are affecting Nebraska families. The rising prices are becoming a barrier to some parents participating in the workforce. It’s why ‘Lincoln Littles’ is working hard to raise awareness about the increasing rates.

“I think childcare is the workforce behind the workforce,” Schneider said. “And so, if we don’t have childcare, other people in the community can’t go to work. First responders can’t be first responders, hospital staff can’t go to work, teachers can’t teach. And so, if our communities and our public systems don’t wake up and have enough awareness and provide support in some way, then it impacts entire communities.”

‘Lincoln Littles’ raises funds and then grants that money to families in need of assistance with childcare. Both Brandt and Schneider agree: the childcare system in place now is not working for Nebraska families.

“A major solution is recognizing childcare is a public good,” Brandt said. “We’ve got public school systems where you can send your child to school without a tuition cost, but we don’t have that for childcare. And so, there may be pockets of opportunity there, but generally speaking, it’s private pay through parents. And so, most people need childcare, and yet, we don’t have a good solution for public funding.”

Until there’s a solution, McCamey hopes other young moms and dads don’t become discouraged to start their own families.

“To not have a daycare to send your baby to, and then people feel like they have to stay home because they can’t find a daycare,” McCamey said. “So, more daycares opening would probably be super helpful and just there be more options for families.”

The McKinley’s aren’t looking to expand their family right now, and they’re definitely already thinking about the cost of daycare when baby two comes along.

“(We’re) nowhere near ready for another baby,” McCamey said. “But when we are, to have two little kids at daycare increases the price quite a bit.”

Ultimately, Schneider and Brandt say childcare is the bottom line for businesses. They’re hoping lawmakers in the Nebraska Legislature will address the issue, and together develop a system that will be affordable for Nebraskans so parents can participate in the workforce if that’s what they choose to do.