South Dakota’s childcare crisis is on the verge of tipping the scale

The 530 Sunday KOTA Territory News
Updated: Jul. 31, 2022 at 4:00 AM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - South Dakota has boasted about its thriving economy since COVID-19 began. However, the pandemic has exposed cracks in the veneer. It’s a time when parents are battling childcare payments, rent, utilities, and food, just for their family to sustain themselves without drowning. Childcare providers are battling worker shortage and inflation while providing quality care on budgets that keep shrinking.

Keiz Larson, Executive Director/CEO, for the YMCA of Rapid City says, “Rapid City is definitely at a childcare crisis point at this moment because again Rapid City is a tourism industry. And we know during the summertime months tourists businesses are looking for staff as well and as they increase their staff wages, and the YMCA isn’t able to raise their staff wages.”

Increasing wages isn’t always an option for all businesses.

“That would mean we would have to increase our parent fees and parents couldn’t afford the cost either and I constantly had parents saying ‘I am trying to make this work, I am trying to pay, but this is getting more and more difficult as time goes on. And so you’re really stuck,” said Kayla Klein, Director of Early Learner, South Dakota.

Cassie Stacy, a mom in Sturgis says, “Looking at what your daycare bill is every week or every other week, and then according to your paycheck and you know more than half of it, if not more is going to daycare, I mean it kind of makes you wonder why are you going to work?”

But adding more childcare slots isn’t an option either. At the YMCA, they are currently limited to 270 children; and have more than 400 on their waiting list, due to the child-to-staff ratio. Larson says that if the “Y” loses just one staff member, it could affect up to 20 families.

Former childcare center owner, Kayla Klein said childcare issues like this are not new, “I have to-I’m very blunt and honest when it comes to this pace of things, I was quite frankly embarrassed about how much we were paying our staff. It was astronomically low, but we were pigeonholed and really just stuck because we couldn’t increase our staff wages.”

That was nearly 10 years ago and parents today aren’t seeing a difference. Cassie Stacy, a single mom in Sturgis, was banking on summer programs for her children. But staffing issues canceled those plans.

Stacy said she began, “Calling around to other daycares obviously they were full. I looked into friends, family, and anybody really that could possibly be available. It actually came down to a neighbor that you know was a stay-at-home mom, had three kids and she was just available to take my children. Other than that, I wouldn’t have had anyone.”

With the current economy, every penny counts, but Stacy says her inconsistent work hours make daycare bills hard to budget around.

“As a single parent, it gets harder and harder, trying to budget that, and also, with my job I work weird hours,” explains the working mom. “I don’t always get off at 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock, somedays I get off late, and then you know that’s obviously an overcharge or more money that I have to pay in the long run.”

Providers are searching for quality employees. Parents are searching for quality care. For now, the lack of one causes the scale to tip.

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