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'Quality care for infants out of reach for many Arizona families': Cost of care more than in-state tuition, expert says

Experts say high costs leave many Arizona parents without options.

PHOENIX — One non-profit think tank estimates the average cost of infant child care in Arizona is more expensive per year than a year of in-state college tuition.

It’s a reality that parents know well as childcare costs eat up their monthly budget.

High cost of childcare

According to Economic Policy Institute, infant childcare in Arizona costs about $10,948 per year on average.

In the data last updated in October 2020, EPI estimated that’s about $390 more per year than in-state tuition for four-year public college.

EPI estimated the cost is about $2,400 less for child care for a 4-year-old.

“Quality care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers is out of reach for many Arizona families,” explained Liz Barker Alvarez the Chief Policy Advisor for First Things First.

Barker-Alvarez said often families are left without options when it comes to childcare, meaning parents may have to coordinate several people and their own schedules to get their child taken care of.

Often it’s situations, Barker-Alvarez said, aren’t ideal for parents as they can’t look for a job or struggle to hold down a job without consistent childcare.

“If they are able to work, they’re spending anywhere from 25% to 45% of their income on childcare,” Barker-Alvarez said.

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Adding up 

Elizabet Miramontes said she and her family moved with her 3-year-old son from Illinois to Arizona a few months ago.

Miramontes said childcare has been expensive over the course of her son’s life, but it's been cheaper in Arizona.

She noted childcare, its cost and the need and desire to work are all factors weighed in family decisions.

“As a mom or as a person you want to go back to work, you want to be your best self, you want to have something for yourself. Not all of us just want to be a mom, we have different identities,” Miramontes said. “So that’s something that has been very difficult.”

Miramontes said what has helped in Arizona is the community of people she has in her corner.

“It’s something that I’ll have to lean on and I hope that other current moms, current parents and future parents are also able to find,” Miramontes said.

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Childcare and the economy

Barker-Alvarez said stable and nurturing childcare helps children’s development, helps set them up for success in learning, and ultimately, life.

“Childcare is everyone’s issue,” she said.

It’s childcare that's affordable and consistent that helps the economy in the short and long-term too.

“It impacts whether young children are in the best environment to learn. It impacts whether their families can get a job and keep a job. It impacts how much tax revenue is even, you know, circulating in our economy,” she said.

Alvarez said there is help available in subsidies and scholarships through the Arizona Department of Economic Security and First Things First but more can always be done.

“Once the government starts investing more in our people and our communities that’s when we start giving back to our communities and investing and putting our best self out there for our communities,” Miramontes said.

RELATED: Yes, you need to claim the child tax credit on your 2021 return, even if you got advance payments

Lack of providers 

Alvarez adds that if parents can afford childcare right now, they’re struggling to find it.

“COVID shut many childcare providers down and those that reopened are only able to serve a fraction of the children they were serving before,” Barker-Alvarez said.

However, Alvarez said the issue stems from long before the pandemic. Poor wages for those working to care for children have been paid poorly.  

“I think it says something when we are paying the teachers of our youngest children not enough to be able to afford childcare even on their own,” Barker-Alvarez said.

She said the industry has seen higher costs while also struggling to recruit and retain staff. There is some money available through DES as well to help childcare providers stay open and take care of more kids.

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