Affordable Childcare Is A Unicorn, And It's Preventing Moms From Going Back To Work

by Tanay Howard
MoMo Productions/Getty

As a mom of three young children, I have been lucky in the fact that I have never had to pay for childcare. Between my boyfriend and I working opposite shifts, and help from family, we have always had someone available to watch our children. When I went back to work at seven weeks (too soon, yes) with my middle child, I knew that he would always be in the care of someone that I knew and trusted. For many families, this is not their reality.

In 2020 nearly three million women left the workforce as the Coronavirus ravaged the U.S., causing daycare centers to close, schools to shift to remote-learning, and some childcare resources to stop running their programs indefinitely. Moms all over were forced to choose between their jobs and caring for their children. Many women left the workforce completely as the longstanding problem of inadequate and unaffordable quality childcare in this country became even more apparent.

The United States needs more affordable childcare. Caregivers also need to be paid a reasonable living wage.

Even now, over a year later, as moms are returning to work, there is a serious lack of adequate childcare resources. This is making it impossible for some women to return to their jobs. For some families, the cost of childcare vs. the pay they are bringing home is not worth it.

Even before pandemic problems, studies found that a majority of Americans lived in “childcare deserts.”

In addition, 3 in 5 rural communities lacked proper licensed childcare facilities. This problem of course disproportionately affected families in Latin, Black and other minority and/or lower income communities. And without access to quality childcare, less and less women are able to work and make a living wage.

The coronavirus pandemic only exacerbated these issues by taking an already horrible situation, and making it worse.

The average cost of childcare for a single child aged 0-4 can range anywhere from $9,100 to $9,600 annually (annual childcare costs in Washington D.C. average higher than $24,000). For parents with more than one child, childcare costs are often higher than rent/mortgage payments. For parents of children with disabilities or a special need, the costs are even higher. Taking all of these things into account, it is widely known that the responsibility of childcare (and care for other family members) widely falls on women. With childcare costs more than 20% of the average American’s income, how does one afford care from a licensed professional? The answer for the majority of families is, you don’t.

On the opposite end, since the beginning of the pandemic some caregiving facilities can’t afford to stay open.

With daycare unaffordable for many families, enrollment has been effected. Due to necessary COVID-19 precautions, facilities that have been able to reopen are not operating at full capacity. For some areas, this leaves waiting lists that are years long.

In other areas across the country, teachers have quit with little to no notice due to low pay (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for childcare workers in the US is $11.17 an hour, just over $23,000 a year), being high risk or being parents with no childcare options. Many educators have left their roles for competitive jobs that offer better compensation. And with children under five years still unable to be vaccinated, some teachers were not willing to take the health risk for such low pay. This has left centers and facilities short staffed (like much of the workforce) and unable to care for the same amount of children. With less children, the costs to keep centers open are outweighing the profit.

President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda will hopefully begin to address the longstanding gap between pay and childcare costs.

Some areas said to be addressed in the bill set to make its way through Congress are:

  • Child care subsidies that would attempt to guarantee that most Americans don’t spend more than 7% of their income on child care.
  • Free universal prekindergarten for three- and four-year-olds
  • Paid family leave to care for children or sick loved ones
  • An enhanced child tax credit

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s proven that our country has a lot of work to do. No parent wants to quit their job. Pay everyone a living wage. We shouldn’t have to choose between caring for our children and feeding them.