JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Chamber of Commerce is sounding the alarm as half of the state sits in a child care desert. 

It’s a top concern for Missouri businesses and a major hurdle for Missouri families: the lack of child care providers and the overall cost of having someone watch their child.

Roughly one in every three child care facilities in Missouri is no longer open following the pandemic, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

“We know people want to go to work, but they can’t go to work because they don’t have quality child care,” said Brenda Lohman, director for the University of Missouri Center for Family Policy and Research. “We need to think of early childhood education and child care as a backbone to Missouri’s economy, not just immediately but long-term.”

According to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the state’s economy lost out on more than $1.3 billion last year due to a lack of childcare, making it a major concern not only for businesses but also families. 

“I hired a staff member, and they lasted 16 days,” said Lohman. “They were using a family member as child care, and that family member said, ‘I can’t do this for 50 to 60 hours a week. I physically can’t take this on.'”

This year, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed off on $78 million to boost child care subsidies to help low-income families, but Lohman said that isn’t enough. Over the course of two years, the state lost 1,100 providers, leaving some counties without a facility.

“We know in the state of Missouri we have 80 counties out of our 114 that are child care deserts, so we know a lot of businesses aren’t attracted to the rural areas,” Lohman said. “There has always been a child care shortage in our country, and the economy and low-paying wages that have gone along with child care and early childhood teachers have heightened over the last four years.”

Up for debate multiple times during the legislative session earlier this year included a package of tax credits for donors to child care facilities, for employers who help pay for employees’ child care and for child care providers. 

The Chamber’s president and CEO, Dan Mehan, said a filibuster in the Senate caused that package of incentives for employers and workers to find care died in the Senate this past session. 

“That was teed up on the last day of session, but unfortunately there was a series of filibusters that week that burned up about three total days,” said Mehan. “It’s critical to get people back into the workforce. Child care is absolutely important.”

Many parents are left with the decision to quit their job to watch their child or to pay top dollar. Lohman said the average cost for child care is anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000 a year. 

“Child care is right up there with rent and mortgage costs these days and so it’s a family matter, it’s an economic matter, it’s a business matter,” said Lohman. “We really need to think about how all the systems can work together to try and solve this.”

Some lawmakers have already said they plan to refile the legislation in the upcoming legislative session that starts in January. Mehan said it will be a priority for the Chamber as well. 

“I do think businesses, owners, and bosses experience it every day when someone has to call in and can’t be at work,” said Lohman. “We need business, we need government, we need education, and we need families to work together to solve this crisis.”