Average child care costs in Nevada are approaching the average rents.

Most child care legislation considered this year by Nevada’s new woman-majority legislature dealt with regulation or licensure, not access to care. Legislators went into the 2019 legislature with no expectation of many gains, to the point that in February the Nevada Current ran the headline, “Child care reform: Baby steps expected at Legislature.”

Now, the Economic Policy Institute in D.C. has issued a new survey on child care in the state. It reported that in Nevada average child care for a 4-year-old costs $9,050 a year, or $754 monthly. That’s 72 percent of the average cost of housing in the state.

Infant care is even higher—$11,408 annually.

The Institute reported, “Infant care in Nevada costs $5,488 (92.7 percent) more per year than in-state tuition for four-year public college. That makes Nevada one of 33 states and D.C. where infant care is more expensive than college. In Nevada, infant care costs just 8.7 percent less than average rent.”

And given Nevada’s heavy reliance on low income workers: “A minimum wage worker in Nevada would need to work full-time for 35 weeks, or from January to August, just to pay for child care for one infant.”

The report adds flatly, “Child care is unaffordable for typical families in Nevada.”

That might be shocking except that the same thing is often said of the United States. At least one survey has shown some parents holding down the size of their families because of the cost of child care.

Some parents who would like to be in the job market never get there because of child care costs.

The depth of the problem in the state can be seen in the lives led by child care workers themselves:

“A median child care worker in Nevada would have to spend 50.7 percent of her earnings to put her own child in infant care.”

That does not create much of an incentive to go into child care work.

“My granddaughter did that kind of work for awhile while she was going to college, but it’s usually like that—temporary—to support yourself until you get through school,” said Marlene Lockard.

Lockard is a professional lobbyist and represented the Nevada Women’s Lobby in the 2019 legislative session. She said there were a number of pieces of legislation dealing with other kinds of family issues, and that dealt with administrative child care matters, but not much on availability. And the reason always came down to money.

“There were bills, but they didn’t make it,” she said. “There were a couple of bills at the 2017 legislature that touched on higher salaries for child care workers, but they didn’t make it, either.”

The state receives some federal money to help low income families with child care, but it serves only the neediest and poorest—basically, those on public assistance.

Campaign issue

The Institute supports a program of government subsidies that effectively caps child care at 7 percent of a family’s income. In Nevada, that would free up $7,143 of the average family’s money for other purposes and would, the Institute argues, increase economic activity in the state by almost a percentage point, or $1.4 billion.

The 7 percent figure comes from the federal government, which defines that as child care affordability.

But there is nothing on the political horizon even close to such a program.

In the Democratic presidential race, child care is being emphasized by many of the candidates. In February, candidate Elizabeth Warren unveiled an extensive $700 billion proposal for universal child care, which also pegged a cap to the 7 percent figure. Nevada hosts one of the nation’s first presidential nominating events in February.

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...