How steadily rising costs, dwindling options, and a looming expiration date have created a child care crisis.
If you’re a working mom who’s been struggling to keep it all together this summer, rest assured — you’re in good company. 62% of mothers report difficulty in affording summer child care. The sticker shock many parents experience isn’t surprising, considering that families can expect to pay an average of 20 percent of their income on summer child care.
This reality places the burden on families to cobble together a patchwork of coverage options, with many hopping from camp to camp and working in quiet moments when the kids are home. Because of this, the carefree joy of summer is often overshadowed by long days, bored children, and exhausted parents.
And while the summer slips away, fall promises to bring even more child care woes, with funds from a pandemic-era safety net benefits expiring — a change that could affect up to 3 million children.
Let’s examine what factors have led up to this crisis, how it affects parents year-round, and what’s on the horizon for child care and working parents.
Rising costs and a growing crisis
At The Mom Project, we understand all too well the difficulties of obtaining child care for working parents, a topic we’ve studied at length through various Werklabs studies. In our Child Care & Work study, we shared the dilemma that many working parents face in choosing between their careers and their children. Often, many parents didn’t have a choice — we found that 35% of the parents we surveyed had either had to leave their jobs themselves or watched their partners leave due to high costs.
Unfortunately, moms are disproportionately affected by this, with only 79.6 percent of mothers staying on to work in the face of child care difficulties, compared to 95.5 percent of fathers.
According to Axios, child care costs have increased by 220% since 1990, outpacing inflation. The pandemic put a spotlight on the crisis, as many moms were pushed out of the workforce. Though some have re-entered the workforce, the problem of high costs remains. For many, especially single mothers and Latino and Black families, having to pay for child care makes essentials such as diapers or even rent unaffordable.
Working parents who have managed to make it work during the school year struggle when summer comes around, with child care adding an additional bill not part of the regular budget. Moms may feel stretched thin, striving to do well at work while managing their children’s summer schedules. This can lead to burnout and depression as you strive to meet the (mostly unattainable) goal of “doing it all.”
More problems on the horizon
Over the last two years, child care providers have benefited from $24 million in pandemic relief, funds that were used to raise teachers’ wages and help centers stay afloat. However, that relief is set to expire in September. With a system already strained, the loss of this funding could have catastrophic consequences, leading to tuition hikes, layoffs, and center closures. This will only exacerbate the affordability issue for working parents.
It’s not only rising costs that are an issue. Werklabs has highlighted the existence of “child care deserts,” areas where there is a lack of available child care spots for children who need them. If more centers close due to lack of funding, this disparity will only grow.
To make up for the financial difference, child care providers will have to decide between raising tuition, further stretching the already tight budgets of many families, or risk losing valuable workers who need more money — workers who are already paid less than 98 percent of other professions.
The need for change
It’s clear that change is needed for all — parents, child care providers, and businesses who stand to miss out on valuable employees if people are forced to leave their jobs to care for their children. Women who must leave the workforce face losing over $300K in earnings over their lifetime. 40% of American families say they have gone into debt due to high child care costs.
Change can begin with companies.
The #ShowUsYourChildcare campaign asked businesses to share their caregiving benefits in the spirit of transparency and to encourage other companies to be bolder in their offerings. The truth is that affordable, quality child care options benefit us all. Companies reap the rewards of having talented professionals, families are happier and less stressed, and child care providers and those who work for them can make a decent living.
How our community is handling child care this summer
We asked our community to share how they’re handling child care this summer. While some had coverage through nannies and daycare, most were piecing things together with summer camps and more.
If you feel like you’re crawling to the finish line of summer break, you’re not alone. While the road ahead contains unknowns, know that we are right here beside you, working for a better future for all.