Expensive and Elusive: U.S. Child Care Crisis Burdens Families and the Workforce

One of the often unconsidered but pressing concerns in the US is the affordability and availability of child care. Child care for infants and toddlers now costs more than tuition fees at a four-year public college. The average national cost of child care reaches $10,408. The child care crisis takes a heavy toll on working families, especially on single parents, making it out of reach for most families in America.

Exorbitant Child Care Costs

In the Public Policy Forum of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a child-care provider raised the issue of the minimum wage increase. She explained the difficulty of keeping her small-time facility running and paying her staff fairly, given the minimum wage increase in her state.

Apart from the minimum wage, another reason for the expensive child care rates is the amount of labor necessary to run a facility. The child care industry can’t solve its labor shortage through measures that most other industries take advantage of, such as hiring fewer workers and automating processes. This is because child care requires trained workers who will be physically present to perform their job, all while maintaining a low staff-to-child ratio to ensure the quality of the service.

The high operational costs, plus the minimum wage increase, dampens child care business and franchise opportunities, making it harder for families to look for providers or workers who would take in their children for a more economical fee.

Child care workers and teachers are forced to bear the brunt of the minimum wage situation because families can’t afford to pay more than they already do. A survey in Washington revealed that 44 percent of child care providers plan to reduce staff hours and benefits to cope with the state’s minimum wage increase.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that families should dedicate no more than seven percent of their income to child care. But in reality, center-based care for infants exceeds 10 percent of the median income of a married couple, and 40 percent of a single parent’s earnings.

Paralyzing the Workforce

teacher and children playing

The child care crisis, on top of the country’s other outdated family policies, such as maternity leave, paralyzes the workforce, especially women. Between 40 percent to 50 percent of employed women who give birth to their first child never return to work. Other countries have already employed measures to ensure that mothers can continue working. For example, Japan has started abolishing societal norms and discrimination in the workplace to promote gender equality.

Certainly, some mothers prefer to stay at home and take care of the children or work only part-time. But many moms don’t enjoy the freedom or comfort to choose. The exorbitant cost of child care forces some to leave the workforce and care for their kids personally.

When mothers stay out of the labor force, it snowballs into bigger problems. First, they lose worthwhile years of working experience. This has an impact on their long-term earning power and ability to seek stable, higher-paying jobs in the future, which partly explains the gender pay gap in the country.

It also affects labor force growth and productivity. By limiting the number of women who can work, the size of the national workforce also diminishes. Since the gross domestic product (GDP) relies on labor productivity, the country’s economy suffers as well.

It’s crucial for families to find and pay affordable child care so that the next generation is certain to receive the love and attention they need to push a nation forward.