By Shay Everitt, David McClendon, and Patrick Gill, Center for Social Measurement and Evaluation

When we talk about access to child care, money is often the first thing that comes to mind. For a single mother in Texas living at 200% of the poverty line, child care for an infant takes up nearly 30% of her income.

Texas gives working families subsidies that can help them pay for child care. Across Texas, nearly half of all child care providers accept subsidies – around 8,000 child care centers and homes.

But money isn’t the only barrier to access. In many places across Texas, there simply are too few child care providers – and child care seats –  in the subsidy system to meet the demand among low-income families.

According to CHILDREN AT RISK’s analysis of child care provider data and census data, there are an estimated 222,000 more low-income children (ages 0-5) with working parents than available subsidized child care seats in child care centers and registered homes. That amounts to just 291 subsidized seats per thousand children.

This estimate excludes the more than 250,000 low-income children already served by public Pre-K and Head Start.

Moreover, when it comes to quality child care seats certified in Texas Rising Star (TRS) – the state’s only quality rating and improvement system – there are only 63 seats for every thousand low-income children. Fewer than 3-in-10 subsidized seats are certified in Texas Rising Star.

Child Care Deserts in Texas

Access to subsidized child care is also uneven across the state. In some areas, child care providers are meeting or exceeding the demand for services, while other areas remain “child care deserts” with little or no access to subsidized child care.

Building on work by national experts at Child Care Aware and Center for American Progress, CHILDREN AT RISK analyzed data on the supply and demand for child care from every zip code across the state to identify four kinds of child care deserts:

  • Child care deserts
  • Subsidized child care deserts
  • Texas Rising Star (TRS) deserts
  • TRS Level-4 deserts

You can explore our Texas child care desert map here.

A zip code is a “child care desert” if the number of children under age 6 with working parents is three times greater than the licensed capacity of child care providers in the area (<333 seats per thousand).

For subsidized and TRS deserts, demand for child care only includes low-income children under age 6 with working parents (living at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line). In addition, the number of child care seats going to children in the subsidy program is based on Texas Workforce Commission’s annual targets for each Workforce Board area. You can read more on the methodology behind how we calculated child care deserts here.

Around 1-in-12 Texan children under age 6 with working parents live in a child care desert. That amounts to over 90,000 children.

The share of low-income children living in a subsidized child care desert, however, is far higher: 3-in-4 low-income children with working parents live in zip codes where the supply of subsidized child care meets less than a third of the demand.

Lack of access to Texas Rising Star is nearly universal throughout the state among low-income families. More than 9-in-10 low-income children in Texas live in a Texas Rising Star desert.

Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley stands out for having the lowest share of children living in a subsidized child care desert. Fewer than 4-in-10 low-income children with working parents live in a subsidized child care desert. El Paso County, Potter and Randall Counties (Amarillo), and Hidalgo County (Rio Grande Valley) also have below-average shares of children living in a subsidized child care desert.

By contrast, subsidized child care deserts are more common in Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, and Dallas Counties. In these counties, more than 8-in-10 low-income children with working parents live in a subsidized child care desert. In Dallas County, the number is nearly 9-in-10 low-income children.

Next Steps

CHILDREN AT RISK is currently touring the state to present findings on child care deserts in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Brownsville, Amarillo, El Paso, Lubbock, and Houston. Stay tuned for city-specific analyses!