Any parent knows that having a baby is a hasty path to indebtedness. Yet Minnesota's child care costs are becoming so brutal we may soon have to erect signs at the border: “Now entering breeder prohibitive territory.”
The Economic Policy Institute, a D.C. think tank, has rendered those costs in black and white, and they're not pretty. For pure punishment, Minnesota ranks behind only D.C., Massachusetts, and California.
Minnesota's annual average price for one infant now reaches $16,000. To put that in perspective, it's nearly $5,000 more than the average tuition cost at a state university, and 30 percent more than the average rent.
At $12,252, the price is slightly better for a four-year-old. But that's still more than $1,000 a month. And if you happen to have an infant and a four-year-old, the typical family ends up paying 37 percent of their wages on child care alone.
The problem stems from rather obvious factors. Child care workers have long suffered unpleasant wages. On average, they'd have to spend 72 percent of their income just to send their own baby to day care. And since the state's unemployment rate is now at 3.4 percent, even Walmart and McDonald's offer better pay to entice them away, causing a shortage of workers.
There's no easy way for fix this. Raise pay, and the shortages start to slim. But that inevitably pushes up the cost of care, which most parents can't afford in the first place.
The only remedy, it seems, would be increasing state subsidies. This appears to have bipartisan backing in the Legislature. Yet there's also bipartisan sentiment that Minnesota's Child Care Assistance Program is riddled with bureaucratic ineptitude, infighting, and fraud.
Inspector General Carolyn Ham, the woman charged with taming it all, has been on suspension for the last four months as the state investigates undisclosed complaints against her.
In the meantime, legislators aren't keen to pump more money into a program they don't quite trust. That's leaving parents to either pony up or bow out of the workforce.
After all, a job makes no sense when it exhausts an entire paycheck, and the alternative is spending more time with your kids.