Childcare—What Utahns Need to Know Now: A 2023 Update

Five years ago, the Utah Women & Leadership Project published its first research snapshot about childcare in Utah. Since then, childcare has reached a crisis for working parents both in Utah and the U.S. due to the market failures and the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Childcare Needs

Childcare is a critical need for families statewide and nationally because of the proportion of families where all available parents work. Utah has the highest percentage of children of any state population—at about 30%—and an estimated 64.1% of Utah families have all available parents working. In fact, seven of Utah’s 29 counties have 70% or more of families with children having all available parents in the workforce.

Childcare Affordability and Availability

Since 1990, childcare costs have tripled. Lack of childcare may cause working parents to leave work early, arrive late, or miss entire days of work. In 2020, the price of childcare exceeded the annual inflation rate by 3.8%.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services affordability standard states that childcare should cost no more than 7% of a family’s income, yet Utah’s average cost for infant care for one child is 14% of Utah’s median family income. Utah is one of 33 states where infant care costs more than in-state tuition for a four-year public college. The average annual cost of care for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) is $17,591 which is 24.7% of a Utah family’s income.

The cost of childcare is even more challenging for single mothers Utah, many of whom live in poverty. In Utah, the problem of finding affordable childcare is exacerbated for women because they earn 70.8% of what a man earns yearly.

Childcare costs directly impact Utah’s economy. The state of Utah suffers from the economic impact of lost tax revenue, employee absences, and employee turnover due to childcare issues. An estimated $1.4 billion are lost annually from Utah’s economy due to childcare inadequacies.

In 2020, nearly 154,000 children under age six required childcare. As of September 2023, there were 41,399 slots available in licensed childcare centers and 12,969 slots available in licensed family childcare. The Utah Department of Workforce Services concluded that more urban counties have larger childcare gaps.

Childcare Provider Challenges

Across the nation, wages have been so low that 53% of childcare workers use public benefits to make ends meet. Other estimates suggest that childcare workers make less than 98% of the wages made by the nation’s other workers and that families of childcare workers are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than other workers’ families (11.8% compared to 5.8%). In Utah, with wages being so low and the cost of childcare so high, a median childcare worker would need to spend 47.6% of their earnings to enroll their own child in infant care.

Emerging Childcare Policy Changes

In April 2023, President Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to improve childcare accessibility and Congress to make high-quality childcare more affordable. Several recent policy changes have directly impacted childcare in Utah as well.

  • Utah is increasing the funding for full-day kindergarten which give families with kindergarten-aged children an option to send their child to a full day of school rather than a half day, opening opportunities to increase work hours and decrease childcare hours.
  • A new law signed in March 2023 is meant to give greater access to childcare for parents who are government employees working in person by allowing spaces in government buildings to be used as affordable childcare centers.
  • As of January 2024, Utah will be the 13th state to have its own childcare tax credit.

What Utahns Can Do

  • During the 2024 legislative session, legislators can sponsor and vote for bills that support families and make high-quality, affordable childcare a priority in our state. For instance, the state could provide tax breaks for all families with children under age six.
  • Counties in Utah must address childcare deserts, many of which exist in rural areas.
  • Many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are looking at how they can become attractive employers to families and Utah companies can follow suit.
  • It is imperative for individuals to recognize the essential work of all caregivers, both paid and unpaid, and their impact on Utah’s economy.


 The development of an infrastructure to support Utahns with caregiving responsibilities has been neglected. In the recent “Status of Women in the States” report, Utah ranked 48th on the Childcare Index and 50th—or an “F” grade—in the Work and Family category.  Addressing childcare deficiencies will strengthen women and families in Utah and ensure our economy continues to thrive.

To learn more about childcare in Utah, read the full snapshot.

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