Speak to a parent about childcare and you’ll undoubtedly be met with a roll of the eyes and the statement that the cost is “ridiculous.”
It’s true. In 2014, it was cheaper in 33 states to pay in-state college tuition than to send a 4-year-old to day care, raising the issue of whether we need to subsidize childcare in the United States as President Obama suggested in his January State of the Union.
The reality is much more than simply an inconvenience for many families struggling to meet the monthly budget.
Fighting to Pay the Bills
For many families, gone are the days in which a mother (or father) can make the personal decision of staying home with the children. Instead, the need exists for a second income in the family. The only problem is that these families also can’t afford to work.
“With the cost of daycare spiraling out of control, a lot of parents are finding out that after factoring in the cost of daycare, commuting and other work related expenses, holding a job doesn’t pay enough,” says one financial blog. “In some cases they even have to pay to work!”
Expensive daycare costs put families who can’t survive on a single income in a bit of a pickle. All of the sudden, the family’s second job not only has to pay for the overhead of expenses not covered by the primary income, it has to be substantial enough to pay for high daycare costs.
Single-parent households face an even tougher reality. When job interview opportunities arise, the parent must find childcare or forfeit the interview. The result is a chicken-or-the-egg situation: if the parent can’t look for a job due to lack of daycare, how can the parent pay for daycare to look for a job?
The Reason for the High Cost
Yes, a family needs to make enough money to survive, but so do the caregivers. While it is easy to criticize the cost of childcare that often exceeds the family mortgage, the bottom line is that it is high for a legitimate reason.
“So, why is child care so (pricey)? It’s fairly simple. You have to pay human beings to watch over kids,” says Slate.com. “And while child care workers aren’t paid especially well, they do have to be paid.”
The last thing parents want to do is find a cheap, ill-qualified provider to watch over their children. In 2013, New Republic painted the horrific scene that was reality for a number of Texas parents who dropped their children off at an in-home daycare facility — “Jackie’s Child Care” — only to have a fatal fire take the lives of a number of their children.
The daycare provider, Jessica Tata, had left a pan of oil heating on the stove while she made a casual trip to Target and Starbucks. It’s a terrifying testament that the quality of care matters.
Is There a Solution?
President Obama has taken steps to help low-income families pay for childcare by dedicating additional funds to the Head Start programs, but that does little to help middle class families.
Programs are allowed to fill up to 10% of their slots with children from families whose income is above the Federal poverty line. In addition, at least 10% of slots must be filled with children with disabilities. — Administration for Children & Families
If all families are to be helped, the solution — says Obama — is to subsidize care as it is provided to military families, but the effectiveness of that option is debated as well.
“Really,” said Tim Worstall in his article in Forbes, “the point here is that if you’re both paying the taxes and collecting the benefit, is it really a subsidy at all? And is it, in the end, any cheaper?”
It’s a hotly-debated topic that isn’t likely to cool down anytime soon.