Child care bills rising faster than income

Child care takes a much bigger slice out of the family budget than before.

An Oregon State University study revealed that while wages remained fairly flat from 2004 to 2010 in Oregon, the cost of child care rose 7 percent. Single parents took the hardest hit, with child care outpacing income by 14 percent.

The study comes on the heels of another report, by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, that ranks Oregon as the seventh most expensive for child care in the nation. Massachusetts ranked highest.

Brandi Ivins knows what it's like to worry about the cost of child care. Until recently, the Pendleton single mother of two worked a minimum-wage cashier job that paid about $1,000 a month. Child care for her two children cost $800. Fortunately for Ivins, money from the state's Employment Related Day Care program footed some of the bill.

Monday, everything changes. Ivins starts classes at Blue Mountain Community College with the goal of becoming an ultrasound technician.

"I don't want to be a cashier for the rest of my life," she said. "My kids — that's where my drive comes from. I want to be able to provide for them."

She will no longer be one of the 20,000 Oregonians receiving state assistance with child care. As a student, Ivins is no longer eligible. Federal and state loans, food stamps and summer employment will keep her afloat. Child care will take a huge piece of the budget pie.

According to the OSU study, Ivins has plenty of company. Families making less than $28,000 spent about a third of their income to care for their children. The average minimum-wage worker spent about 60 percent.

"The issue of affordability is huge," said Bobbie Weber, OSU researcher and co-author of the report. "Families are facing serious challenges and they want to do the right thing for their children, but faced with these unbearable costs, they do what they can to make it work."

Child care averaged $10,392 annually per family in Oregon. Washington County ranked most expensive with an average price tag of $11,880.

In rural counties, such as Umatilla and Morrow, costs were lower. In Umatilla County, parents paid an average of $6,360 per year, and in Morrow County, $5,188.

Rural counties, however, often struggle with too few providers. About 12,800 children age 12 and below live in Umatilla County with around 2,300 slots in child care, education centers or with in-home providers. Morrow County has 216 slots for 2,505 children.

The state goal, Weber said, is 25 visible slots for each 100 children. Morrow County lags with nine and Umatilla County has 18.

The report also suggested that more low-income parents rely on relatives and friends to look after their children for free. The number of parents who reported using paid care dropped 7 percent since 2004.

Quality of overall child care appears to have decreased. About 19 percent of parents said their children didn't feel safe and secure at their day care facility and 46 percent said their children's situations were less than ideal.

"The cost of getting quality care and education is not possible for many Oregonians, including many in the middle class," Weber said.

Though Ivins, too, struggled to find the ideal child care provider, she eventually found Veda Spencer, a Pendleton provider who fit the bill. Now, Ivins can focus on college during the day without worrying about her children.

Sitting in her living room, she gazed tenderly at Bryson, 6, and Kayli, 3, as they sat on the carpet, watching cartoons on television.

"They are my world," she said, "my reason to get up in the morning."

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