The High Cost of Child Care: American Families in Crisis
Editor’s note: The following piece was written by Makenna Whitworth, CHN’s Fall 2018 intern. Makenna is a senior majoring in political science at Brigham Young University.
By Makenna Whitworth
“In the first two years of my daughter’s life, I spent more money on child care than on anything else,” Jessica Raven, family advocate, shared at the Child Care Aware of America (CCAoA) 2018 Cost of Care Report Briefing Wednesday, Oct. 24.
Jessica is a young, single mother and resident of Washington, D.C., a city with one of the highest costs of child care in the country, with parents needing to spend up to $23,000 per year for care of an infant or toddler. Her full-time, 9-5 job provided barely enough money to make ends meet when her daughter was younger, and she often rearranged her work schedule or relied on the generosity of family and friends to organize quality care for her child. Now that her daughter is four years old and is enrolled in Pre-K, which the city of Washington, D.C. universally provides, Jessica’s finances are much more manageable. However, quality, affordable child care remains an issue for not just thousands of U.S. families, but for our entire country. “Since 60 percent of children under age six have both parents in the workforce and working mothers make up 40 percent of the workforce, the lack of access to quality, affordable care hurts most children and all communities – this is not an issue reserved only for parents and families,” says Dr. Lynette Fraga, Executive Director of CCAoA. “American families are in crisis. We have to prioritize affordable child care.”
The US and the High Cost of Child Care 2018 report is the 12th edition of CCAoA’s annual report about the unaffordably high costs of child care across the country. As in years past, the results of the report are troubling. In many homes, child care is one of the highest budget items, with costs of child care often exceeding that of housing, public college tuition, transportation, or food. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that child care cost no more than 7 percent of a family’s income, yet the average family in every state pays far more than that. The national average cost of child care is around $9,400, with infant care costing approximately $10,300, toddler care around $9,100, and 4-year-old care averaging nationally around $8,700. When these figures are compared with national median household incomes, the report concludes that more than 10.6 percent of household income for married couples and 37 percent of household income for single parents is used to cover child care costs for a single child, far exceeding the HHS recommendation. For low-income families and parents of color, these challenges are exacerbated.
So let’s do more to invest in quality, affordable child care for all Americans, because when we don’t, families, employers and economic growth suffers. Employers lose $4 billion each year due to child care breakdowns. If parents have access to suitable child care arrangements, they no longer have to miss work or give up their jobs entirely, resulting in fewer absent workers, less turnover, and increased stability in the workforce. Children who participate in quality child care programs are not only healthier and perform better academically and behaviorally, but also have better outcomes later in life including decreased criminal activity, increased education and earnings, better employment rates, and more stable families. No matter how you slice it, investing in quality, affordable child care leads to long-term benefits for everyone.
While CCAoA applauds Congress for approving an additional $5.8 billion in two-year funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the primary source of federal funding for helping low-income families pay for child care, we have a long way to go before CCAoA’s vision of an America where every family has access to high-quality, affordable child care is realized. Of the 36 nations that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. is among the five least affordable nations for child care, spending just 0.3 percent of GDP on early childhood education and care. And while expanding funding for CCDBG is a great start, only 1.4 million children – approximately one out of every six eligible – currently receive such assistance.
You may ask, “what can be done?” CCAoA offers a full list of policy recommendations in their report, but Jay Nichols, CCAoA Director of Federal Policy and Governmental Affairs, concluded the report briefing by focusing on just four suggestions: invest in and expand CCDBG while supporting Child Care Resources and Referral (CCR&R) agencies; improve the child care infrastructure; address and prioritize the needs of parents; and strengthen state leadership in promoting quality, affordable care. CCAoA also asked for help from you. By sharing your stories with your elected officials and with CCAoA about how access to quality, affordable child care has impacted your life, you can help make affordable, quality child care a reality for all U.S. families.
Visit CCAoA’s website to access the full report, an interactive Cost of Child Care map, updated parent tip sheets, advocacy social media kits, and to share your story.