The lack of child care has plagued many U.S. families, but the gap is more prevalent in rural America. "Data collected before the pandemic shows that more than half of Americans lived in neighborhoods classified as child care deserts, areas that have no child care providers or where there are more than three children in the community for every available licensed care slot," reports Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez of KFF Health News. "Other research shows parents and child care providers in rural areas face unique barriers. Access to quality child care programs and early education is linked to better educational and behavioral outcomes for kids." Programs also help parents connect with additional social services that support healthy families.

Without access to affordable child care, rural families will continue to face tough choices that "threaten the sustainability and longevity of rural communities," Rodriguez writes. "The dearth of child care exacerbates workforce shortages by forcing parents, including those who work in health care locally, to stay home as full-time caregivers, and by preventing younger workers and families from putting down roots there."

Affordable child care directly increases family incomes and supplies local businesses with a larger labor pool. Rodriguez adds, "A rural health advisory committee report shows that when center-based care is readily available in a community, the percentage of mothers who use that type of care and are employed doubles from 11% to 22%."

Pandemic-era grants helped rural child care providers stay afloat, but that money has dried up, leaving providers struggling to maintain pandemic-level wages. "The Biden administration requested congressional approval of $16 billion to extend the pandemic-era child care stabilization program," Rodriguez reports. "But it doesn't have enough support to continue the funding, despite nearly 80% of voters supporting increasing federal funding for states to expand their child care programs."

Read the full article about rural childcare solutions by Heather Close at The Rural Blog.