INDIANAPOLIS — More than half of all Indiana counties saw a population decrease from 2010 to 2020, with some Land Use Task Force members saying childcare deserts are a large part of the problem.

Lawmakers on the task force discussed at a meeting Monday how population trends are impacting Indiana’s workforce, farmland and childcare (and vice versa). The Legislative Service Agency’s Office of Census Data says only 17 out of 92 counties saw an increase in the population of Hoosiers under 18 years old, compared to the previous census.

“We are always concerned about how do we attract and how do we retain young families,” Adam Alson, President of Appleseed Childhood Education, said. 

Alson said through a private-public partnership, his non-profit out of Rensselaer has raised $2 million since 2020 to make childcare more affordable. Alson told the Land Use Task Force at its meeting that his non-profit’s model is one he hopes other rural communities would adopt.

“Frankly, the state of Indiana doesn’t have a whole lot of funding streams to build childcare capacity in communities like ours,” Alson said.

According to census data, Indiana saw nearly 80,000 births in 2022, making it the fourth-lower yearly total since 1946.

”Access to that available childcare is really important for those communities if they’re going to grow and advance,” State Rep. Kendell Culp, who represents Rensselaer, said.

State Rep. Culp said although rural Indiana populations are slowly starting to increase post-pandemic, work is being done at the federal level to include rural childcare funding in the upcoming farm bill.

”Childcare, broadband, rural healthcare, good educational opportunities…All those things are really things that young families look towards when they’re wanting to locate,” State Rep. Culp said.

State Sen. Shelli Yoder said the task force is also considering whether or not to guarantee housing and childcare vouchers for childcare workers.

”As soon as they earn too much, they no longer qualify for their own children to put in childcare, so that forces them out of the childcare field,” State Sen. Yoder said.

The D.C.-based Policy Equity Group is looking at Indiana’s childcare laws to see what improvements can be made. Meanwhile, the state’s Land Use Task Force will hold its next meeting Tuesday, Nov. 14.