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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

A lack of affordable child care puts the burden on working Florida parents

A mom reads a book to two young children while sitting on a bench.
Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County

The Florida Chamber of Commerce estimates that child care issues are resulting in a $5.38 billion annual loss to the state economy.

The cost of child care for infants and toddlers is out of reach for many working Florida parents.

In Hillsborough County, data shows that infant care can cost as much as $12,000 a year. Pre-kindergarten care in the county can cost upwards of $8,000 annually, according to the latest community needs assessment conducted by the Early Learning Coalition.

That’s a huge chunk of many families take-home pay, according to Hillsborough’s Early Learning Coalition CEO Fred Hicks.

A table of expenses shows high costs for infant and pre-kindergarten care in Hillsborough County.
Courtesy of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County

The lack of affordable care options for young children is pushing some parents to leave the workforce entirely, he said.

“For a parent to have to make that decision, some will choose, ‘You know what- – I'm working to pay child care, and I'm still not breaking even. I may stay home,’” Hicks said.

This withdrawal from the workforce is taking a toll on Florida’s economy.

TheFlorida Chamber of Commerce estimates that child care issues are resulting in a $5.38 billion annual loss to the state economy.

"We've met parents all over the state who say I want to go back to work. But literally my salary wouldn't cover child care for my three kids,” Children’s Movement of FloridaCEO Madeleine Thakur said.

While state and federal programs exist to alleviate childcare costs, Thakur said that not all parents qualify.

One example, she said, is Florida’s School Readiness Program, which offers financial assistance to qualifying parents of infants and toddlers, or families earning at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line.

In Hillsborough County, that looks like a single parent earning minimum wage who can’t earn more than roughly $30,000.

Increasingly so, Thakur said this eligibility cutoff is leaving a lot of households without help.

“If you've got a program, ostensibly to support working parents in Florida and a two-parent household both making minimum wage is too wealthy to qualify, we've got that eligibility level in the wrong place,” she said.

Thakur said she would like to see the eligibility threshold raised for Florida families seeking financial assistance with child care. But if that happens, she said the state would also need to invest more money overall in order to serve more families.

She said she's hopeful about other creative policy solutions on the horizon in Florida, too.

One proposal by a Sarasota lawmaker, HB 635, would instate early learning tax credits for employers who subsidize or offer on-site childcare for working parents and grandparents.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.