Mckell James first applied for child care in October 2019, five months before her oldest son was born. She got on a half dozen wait lists, but it took two years to get off just one. And that spot, while coveted, was only for two days of care each week. The Salt Lake City, Utah, family took it anyway, falling into a dizzying juggling act the other three days, with James, 35, and her husband, Corper James, 51, balancing their full-time jobs while watching their toddler.

Mckell James (left), her husband, stepdaughter and two sons live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where they have been waiting on multiple waitlists to access child care. Credit: Image provided by Mitch Meyer

In the spring of 2022, after enduring a string of 10-day quarantines, James, a human resources director, and her husband, an employment attorney, decided to pull their son out of child care to try to keep the family healthy before the birth of their second child. Now, both children are on monthslong waitlists at four child care centers with no end in sight. When James had to return to work at the end of the summer, she and her husband hired a nanny for two days a week. At $25 an hour, the bill for part-time help nearly equals the cost of their monthly mortgage. The other three days, she and her husband split care of their sons.

“At the end of the day, you’re like, ‘Did I really do anything?’,” James said on a recent afternoon as she took a late lunch break while her 2-year-old napped and her 4-month-old happily squealed in the background. “I did everything and nothing and I don’t feel like I did anything fully right, because you’re spread so thin.”