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Study finds San Mateo County is experiencing a severe child care shortage

The demand for child care is drastically exceeding availability, with 29% of need reportedly unmet in 2022

San Mateo County is currently experiencing a child care shortage — particularly for affordable child care — which is predicted to worsen over the next 10 years, according to a recent child care needs assessment.

In 2022, the demand for child care spaces exceeded the availability, with 29% of demand reportedly going unmet, a number that is predicted to rise to 34% by 2032. The need is even greater among San Mateo County residents who rely on affordable child care, with around 79% of demand for subsidized child care unmet. For subsidized toddler and infant care, specifically, a whopping 94% of demand was unmet, according to the report. 

“This study gives us the data we need to both understand the scope of the problem and take action to address the critical shortage in child care spaces for the children of San Mateo County,” San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee said. “Informed by the study, we have begun to convene key stakeholders to generate actionable goals to grow the child care workforce. We are also sharing this data with local, state, and federal elected officials and philanthropic partners as part of our efforts to advocate for increased investments in the child care workforce and affordable child care for families.”

The report, prepared by child care planning firm Brion Economics, Inc., represents a countywide assessment of child care needs for children 0 to 12 years old and is one part of a larger study identifying child care needs by city.

The discrepancy between child care demand and availability has impacted the work situations of local residents. According to survey results, 73% of respondents said that they had to turn down work because of a lack of child care options available.

Researchers concluded that the workforce shortage is the main reason for the gap in child care supply and demand. An additional 2,800 child care staff members would have been required to meet the demands of residents in 2022, according to the study.

The undersupply of child care workers can reportedly be attributed to low wages and a tight labor market. Hourly wages for child care workers ranged from $20 to $31, with many workers making even less. By comparison, the living wage in San Mateo County ranges from $36 to $52 an hour. Wages would need to increase 65-127%, or up to $207 million per year, to match regional pay standards.

The assessment was commissioned by the San Mateo County Child Care Partnership Council, San Mateo County Office of Education and the County Superintendent of Schools.

For more information about countywide child care and early learning needs, click here.

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