Child Care Costs Hit Working Families Hard

Child Care Costs Hit Working Families Hard

The latest survey from sheds light on how the cost of child care affects American families in terms of its impact on their debt burdens, retirement savings, and career choices. More than half of the families surveyed (54 percent) said they were spending more than 10 percent of their income on child care, while one in five said they spent more than a quarter. Rachel Gillett at Business Insider highlights some other salient findings, including several that could be of concern to employers:

  • 67% of working parents overall say that child care costs have influenced their career decisions, while 72% of young working parents say the same thing.
  • 43% of parents say they feel they have to work harder to make more money to cover child care.
  • 34% of families say they worry about job security and the cost of care’s impact on their families financial future.
  • 85% of working parents say they wish that their employers would offer child care benefits.
  • 74% of families say their jobs have been impacted because their child care plans have fallen through. This resulted in having to use a sick day (78%), falling behind on work (37%) and even losing a day’s pay (28%).

The most common ways working parents say child care affects their careers are when they ask for flexible work schedules to save on child care, change jobs to increase pay, and switch from full-time to part-time in order to also save money, the survey found.

With the cost of child care increasingly out of reach for many working parents, Alissa Quart, executive editor of the non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project, writes at Time of a widening inequality between families that can afford child care and those that can’t:

[F]or the most part, quality daycare is both affordable and accessible for the relatively wealthy only. In 31 states and Washington, D.C., the yearly cost of an infant in a daycare center full time is higher than yearly tuition and fees at a state public college.

Plus, it’s scarce nationwide: Colorado’s licensed daycare spots only meet the needs of a quarter of the state’s young children, for example. In Minnesota, the number of in-home childcare providers in three counties has declined by more than 17% in the last five years, leading to an extreme shortfall. Ditto in North Dakota; there’s a big shortage of childcare providers. And the spots that do exist are hard to find. …

Meanwhile, the market has stepped up to help wealthy parents. There are a host of new services to help them balance their work and family lives, including childcare concierges. “Life would be so much easier if we had personal assistants for our children,” says the website for one such company, Kid Care Concierge, of Bridgewater, New Jersey. It offers a “personalized and exclusive concierge service firm,
 establishing a harmonious work-life balance for busy families.” Benefits include “kid care assistants” who “manage your children’s busy schedules.”

For most families, such services are unfathomable luxuries, and the losers in this scenario are typically working mothers. Chid care costs are one reason why having children—particularly more than one—drives so many women out of the workforce. Families unable to pay for full-time child care lean on relatives (often grandmothers) for free help, and mothers are more likely than fathers to quit their jobs or scale back their hours to take care of children, leading to lower earnings for the rest of their careers. That’s why some officials and policy experts consider universal parental leave and a solution to the child care crisis essential steps toward unleashing the full potential of the American workforce.

On the bright side, some employers have found that on-site child care programs are more affordable than they look, once you factor in tax credits and the benefits such programs offer in terms of employee retention and engagement. Even so, not every organization can afford these benefits, and the inequality between parents whose employers offer them and those that don’t might just be exacerbating the problem Quart identifies.