Most rural Nebraskans see a lack of affordable child care options in their communities and believe that increasing access should be a high priority, according to the 2023 Nebraska Rural Poll.
Sixty-one percent of rural Nebraskans surveyed agree that there is a shortage of affordable child care options in their community, while just 6% disagree. Fifty-nine percent also agree their community needs more before- and after-school options.
Most respondents recognize the importance of child care for the growth of their community and think boosting access should be prioritized. More than three-quarters of respondents agree or strongly agree that increasing access to high-quality, affordable child care should be a high priority for their communities. Furthermore, 81% agree or strongly agree that such child care is important to their communities’ growth.
“Access to high-quality child care is an economic and social investment,” said Holly Hatton-Bowers, associate professor of child, youth and family studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “Child care providers are essential for supporting families and businesses, and the provision of high-quality early learning and care is an investment in our children’s futures. We need to collectively build a stable early-learning system in Nebraska where families, children and the economy thrive.”
Fifty-seven percent of Nebraskans surveyed believe the community should invest public resources to support the availability of child care, while just 12% disagree.
“This data reinforces what we’ve been hearing from communities across the state,” said Becky Vogt, poll manager. “When community residents are advocating for investing public dollars to address the issue, that speaks volumes as to how important child care is to their communities.”
This issue can impact a community’s workforce. More than 70% of rural Nebraskans surveyed agree that inadequate or unreliable child care options cause work disruptions.
“Workforce capacity can be impacted by the availability of high-quality child care that can foster the positive development of young children,” said Steve Schulz, associate professor of logistics and supply chain management at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “When adequate child care is not available, parents may be forced to stay at home or rely on informal or substandard arrangements for child care, and their children’s development and safety may be at risk.”
Opinions are mixed on whether child care is affordable, according to the poll. Less than a third of respondents agree that it is affordable for a parent in their profession to use child care, while 36% disagree.
This perception differed by occupation. Those who work in construction, installation or maintenance are more likely than people in other occupations to disagree that child care is affordable. More than two-thirds of respondents working in these occupations disagree with that statement, compared to 16% of Nebraskans with jobs in agriculture.
“What we might be seeing here is also the perception of flexibility, as well as affordability,” said Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, professor of agricultural economics at Nebraska. “If you have to clock in with a job that requires a team of people to complete the task, you have little flexibility and need options immediately that could be pricey, if they are available at all. Agriculture would offer some flexibility on a day-to-day basis. The affordable option might be to find a way to take the child with them, but then that opens up safety issues for the both the child and adult.”
The survey also showed that most rural Nebraskans who currently use child care most frequently use a child care center or school (58%), while just over 40% use a home-based provider. And most were driving less than 10 miles outside of their normal commute to get to their child care.
The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll gauging rural Nebraskans’ perceptions about policy and quality of life. Questionnaires were mailed to more than 6,000 households in Nebraska in late spring and summer, with 1,100 households representing 86 of the state’s 93 counties responding. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3%. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll with funding from Nebraska Extension. For the full report, visit https://ruralpoll.unl.edu.
To see how Rural Prosperity Nebraska is helping communities strengthen and expand their quality childcare options, read the story about communities' innovative childcare solutions.