Recruiting workers for jobs and “Freedom” in South Dakota sounds great, but then it hits the reality of the lack of child care. So discovered nurse Stephanie Wiegand and her physician assistant husband when they moved to Lead in 2020:
When the “South Dakota Focus” production team visited the Wiegands’ home in August, Stephanie sat surrounded by six kids between the ages of 15 and 4. “I chose to stay home because I could not find day care in the area that was able to care for all these kiddos,” she said.
The Weigands moved here for job opportunities – answering an ongoing call from a variety of industries and the governor of South Dakota herself. What they discovered is a challenge that faces nearly every family in the state: finding care they can trust and afford.
“We’re here, but now we’re stuck,” said Weigand. She explained she’s able to pick up an occasional nursing shift now that most of the kids are school-aged, but she had no choice but to stay home for the first two years living in Lead.
“I even took care of somebody’s infant for six to seven months after they were born because they could not find child care,” she added. “And that was two people that also worked at the hospital that my husband works at. So this is not something abnormal to people just moving in. They were locals that had lived here for 20 years and knew everybody in the area” [Jackie Hendry, “My Career or My Kids? Lack of Options Forces Families to Make Tough Decisions,” South Dakota News Watch, 2023.10.19].
Folks in more populous Sioux Falls may have more child care options, but it costs far more than what the state says families should have to pay:
In Sioux Falls, RiAnna Kolovsky also stepped away from her career to care for her kids, 2-year-old Sylvi and 11-month-old Wolfgang.
“Child care was just not feasible,” she said. “This year I would have paid over $27,000 a year to have both of these kids in child care. Granted, it’s a good center, and it had accreditation outside of regular state accreditation. But what job can you work that makes that feasible? The State Department of Health says that for a median income for the state of South Dakota that we shouldn’t pay hardly any more than $9,000 a year. Most families in the state pay at least ($10,000) per kid.”
…Republican state Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt of Sioux Falls is well-aware of the cost-barrier to child care her constituents face, though neither she nor her husband has had to leave the workforce.
“My daughter, Tallie, she is going to day care in about six to ten weeks,” Rehfeldt said in August, “and it’s $275 dollars per week. So it’s $1,100 dollars per month to send our one child to child care. And then we have before- and after-school care for our other two children, which is about $150 to $200 dollars per week. So, we’re looking just at $2,000 per month in child care expenses. Now, we’re lucky and fortunate that both of us are nurses and we have an income that is supportive of that. But we all know that most people can’t afford that. And $24,000 a year is not attainable for most families to be able to pay” [Hendry, 2023.10.19].
Various sources say that South Dakota is among the most affordable states in the nation for child care. But that apparent advantage isn’t showing up for workers like Wiegand and Kolovsky, who have had to choose raising kids over pursuing their careers and adding income (and freedom) to their households.