Kelsey Merison

(KPAX) The cost of childcare can be crippling for the average American household.

According to Child Care Aware of America, the average price of infant child care in a center-based program in Montana was 103% more than the average annualized cost of rent in 2020.

With a lack of affordable resources, Montana workers are opting to stay home with their children rather than pay for child care.

Employers are beginning to recognize the importance of offering childcare in order to retain quality employees.

One Billings business working to combat the rising costs is Granite Health and Fitness, located at 3838 Ave. B.

One gym employee told MTN News the childcare program her workplace offers has made a world of difference.

“I actually moved here from Bozeman and childcare was so expensive there, and I know it is here as well. I was a stay-at-home mom up until this position came into my life because it was unaffordable. That was my choice," said Karina Croaker, the corporate sales director and front-end manager at the gym, on Tuesday. "I would say it’s helped me a lot, I’ve been able to grow my position here exponentially."

Granite is getting creative to try and attract employees by offering free childcare.

“As long as you work a minimum amount of hours per week, we offer daycare to all of our employees here," Croaker said.

But businesses like this are the exception.

According to Montana Child Care Business Connect (MCCBC), nearly 70,000 parents in Montana are not fully participating in the workforce due to a lack of childcare, and 40% of Montana businesses say they are unable to retain qualified employees due to the rising costs.

“The cost of child care is not only high in Montana, it’s high across the nation," said Rhonda Schwenke, the program director for Montana Child Care Business Connect. "We know on average households pay just a little over $16,000 in child care annually. If you have multiple children in childcare, it adds up."

Montana Child Care Business Connect, which contracts with the state health department, works with childcare providers offering resources to help businesses thrive.

“When there aren’t strong business practices or financial planning in place, people kind of just come and go because it’s very expensive," Schwenke said. "The whole business model of child care is so expensive, which is why it costs families so much."

But until that business model gets a complete makeover, the cost of child care will remain a hurdle for many parents.

"It’s a tough business, but it’s necessary to the economy," Schwenke said. “Just thinking about alternate revenue sources, how can they bring in more revenue without raising rates for families."

Luckily, some employers like Granite Health and Fitness are stepping up.

"It gives you an opportunity to get your foot in the door," Croaker said. "I know a lot of stay-at-home moms or even stay-at-home dads aren’t able to work. It’s going to help parents grow in their career."