A new national survey confirms what many parents in Oregon already know – the average cost at childcare centers is the least affordable in the nation, relative to family income. The group “Child Care Aware” says the average price of infant care tops 13-thousand dollars a year. It can eat up 18 percent of an Oregon couple’s income and more than 60 percent of a single parent’s income.
Dr. Bobbie Weber in the Family Policy Program at Oregon State University says economists don’t really know why both childcare and housing costs are so high relative to what people make in Oregon. But price is the reason more than half of the preschoolers are not in childcare centers.
Dr. Weber says individual centers do what they can to serve lower-income families, but their profit margin is only one or two percent. She says the survey reflects the fact that centers were hit hard by enrollment declines during the recession, and had to raise prices to stay in business.
She says state funding for the Employment-Related Day Care program is critical for allowing lower-income parents to keep working. But it’s also critically under-funded, serving only one in five children who are eligible. Dr. Weber isn’t sure why it hasn’t been a legislative priority.
She adds there is a bright side. As a member of the governor’s Early Learning Council, she says they’re hearing a lot from local communities about what they want and need for childcare and preschool. She thinks the governor’s new definition of ‘education’ from birth to adulthood will influence the state’s commitment to these issues.