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Price of Paradise: Families faced with high cost and lack of child care on the Central Coast

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Posted at 3:16 PM, Feb 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-11 14:20:06-05

The cost of living on the Central Coast is one of the highest in the nation.

The situation gets worse when you add the cost of childcare on top of the cost of housing.

Melissa Phipps and her family moved from the Bay Area to San Luis Obispo six months ago.

Soon after settling into their new home, Phipps says it was time to get back to work.

But that plan came to a sudden halt when she couldn’t find childcare for her 18-month-old daughter, Mila.

"I just ran into a problem. I would call different day cares, different child care facilities in the area and everyone wait-listed me," Phipps said.

She spent months researching and calling day care centers and providers, but no one had room for her daughter.

"I feel like I just hit a wall. I don't know what else to do," Phipps said.

Now a stay-at-home mom, her career is on hold while she continues looking for childcare, and she's not alone.

"I would say it's always been a struggle," said Raechelle Bowlay, Quality Early Learning Manager for the San Luis Obispo County Child Care Planning Council.

"The problem is getting more significant," said Wendy Wendt, Executive Director of First 5 San Luis Obispo County,

As employees with the Child Care Planning Council and First 5, Bowlay and Wendt are looking at child care issues in the county to find out what’s working and what’s not.

When they crunch the numbers, it's shocking.

"Median income family is spending more on childcare than on housing," Wendt said.

The problem comes down to supply and demand.

"Our county has the capacity to serve almost 7,500 children in licensed child care slots and this is estimated to meet only about 30% of our projected needs in this county," said Shana Paulson, Children Services Manager for the CAPSLO Child Care Resource Commission.

"They either can't find it at all because the supply is shrinking, or they can find it but it's too expensive," Wendt explained.

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The problem is getting worse, with a dwindling number of providers in San Luis Obispo County.

In 2016, there were 265 family child care provider homes.

Two years later, there were only 218, a drop of nearly 18%.

A big reason for the decline is pay.

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Wages for child care workers in the county hover around $12.37 per hour, slightly above minimum wage.

The lack of child care workers is driving up the cost.

According to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, the average annual cost for a baby in a licensed center in San Luis Obispo County is $14,181.

A year of tuition at a UC school costs less.

The weather, small town vibe, and beaches made a move to the Central Coast an easy decision for Phipps and her family, but she wishes she had known about the child care challenges ahead of time.

"We had different options available and we chose this for many reasons but it certainly would have impacted our choice to come here if we would have known it would have been this difficult," Phipps said.

As state, county, and city agencies work to find solutions to the child care problem, Phipps hopes relief will come soon.

"At this point, I've just given up and I've accepted that this is how it's going to be right now and then if I get that phone call, it would be a welcome surprise," she said.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors recently approved a $20,000 study aimed at increasing quality and affordable childcare.

We all know the cost of living is high on the Central Coast. Here at KSBY, we're committed to addressing these challenges, and we want to hear from you. What are the issues that concern you when it comes to the Price of Paradise here on the Central Coast? Email us at news@ksby.com or message us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.