In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama mentioned the need for quality, affordable childcare for all children. In the following days, there was an overflow of posts on social media from parents citing how expensive child care is and demanding that the government step in to regulate and pay for child care costs.
While I am more than willing to admit that I would support—to some extent—government-funded, quality early child care and education for all children, I’m not so quick to jump on the bandwagon to call it a necessity. In this article, I discuss my response to those social media posts demanding government involvement with child care and explain three reasons why child care costs aren’t as expensive as we typically think.
1. Child care is just one of the many costs of raising children
Raising a child is expensive, and there’s no way around it. From furnishing the nursery to baby supplies and child care, the expenses are never ending (even after children turn 18!). According to the US Department of Agriculture’s “The Cost of Raising a Child” report, a child born in 2013 costs approximately $12,800-$14,970 per child per year. The first response from most parents reading this is, “Well yeah, and daycare costs make up the majority of this.” But the US Department of Agriculture disagrees.
According to their report, housing is the most expensive cost of raising a child, accounting for 30% of the total cost. Families with young children purchase bigger homes to account for their growing family, yet the cost of the new home is overlooked as no one considers this a cost related to raising children. And besides the home ownership deduction on a family’s income taxes (which is also provided for child care costs), most people don’t receive government funding for housing unless they specifically qualify.
Child care is the second highest cost, accounting for 18% of the total cost of raising children. And, while child care gets the most complaints about the excessive cost, the cost of food is only 2% lower. The cost of child care shocks parents, even though it’s roughly the same cost per year as it is to feed a child. Those who qualify because of low income receive some government assistance to feed their kids, but the majority of Americans are responsible for the cost of feeding their children.
If you’re good at math, you know that there’s still 36% remaining. And if you’re really good at math, you know that this is exactly double the cost of child care. So why is this 18% of the cost of raising a child receiving so much negative attention? Why aren’t people complaining about the other 82%? And more importantly, why are people demanding that the government help them to cover 18% of the cost of raising the child when they don’t have that expectation for the other 82% of costs?
Maybe it’s because public education is free and this has spoiled Americans to think that child care should fall in suit. No matter what the reason, it just doesn’t seem appropriate to demand that the government fund only this service and disregard the other 82% of the cost of raising a child.
2. Child care is a business
Taking care of other people’s children is a business. As a provider of a service, the child care business deserves to be paid fairly for these services. While the cost may seem expensive to parents, to child care providers the cost just isn’t high enough.
Take a look at this document (View Rates Here PDF) that Samantha Stobbe, a Sioux Falls family daycare provider (i.e. in-home daycare provider) created to address the cost of running her child care program. By the time she accounted for food, curriculum, supplies and liability insurance for all of the children enrolled in her care, plus taking into account that a child care provider works longer than 40 hours per week, she calculated that she makes $1.82-$1.96 per hour per child.
Stobbe developed these numbers before she opened her daycare as estimates of her costs to illustrate to parents the cost of running a child care program. Now that Stobbe has been running child care in her home, she has learned that she makes even less per hour since she didn’t account for the increased utility costs into her initial budget.
If Stobbe is making $1.82 per hour per child—which we now know she isn’t—she would have to take care of 5 children (well, 4.6, but that’s of course not a possibility!) just to meet the minimum wage rate in South Dakota.
Stobbe, along with many other in-home daycare providers and daycare centers, is simply trying to build a business that creates enough profit for her to make a living off of. She is acting like any other business in that she provides a service and deserves to be paid for that service.
If parents are willing to pay the grocery store, gas station, body shop and restaurant for the services that those businesses provide, why not child care? Why does this service bring up the question of government involvement while the others do not? Once again, it doesn’t seem appropriate that many other businesses receive payment for their services without question, yet the child care industry gets complaints about pricing and demands for government involvement.
3.This is THE single most important choice parents will make in their child’s life
The first three years of a child’s life are the most important years for brain development. By age 3, 85% of the brain has developed, and brain development only increases another 5% by age 5. So, by 5 years of age, the brain is already 90% developed. The first six years of life are the most significant in developing social and emotional skills.
The person or persons that parents choose to take care of their child when they can’t be there during those formative years is the most important choice that parents will ever make for their child.
So if this is the most important choice parents will ever make, isn’t it worth paying a fair price for? There are certain services that I want to pay a high price for. For example, if I’m going to have a surgery, I’m going to pick the best surgeon, not the cheapest one. Or, if I decided to get a tattoo, I definitely would want an experienced tattoo artist, not the one who is going to give me the best deal. If selecting child care is the most important choice parents will ever make for their child, shouldn’t they be looking for the best providers, regardless of the cost?
I get it…it’s expensive and you’d rather spend that $150 per week per child on something fun. Parenting is an expensive journey and you’re brave for agreeing to embark on that journey. But embarking on that journey means agreeing to pay for that child’s needs, and not just some, but all of those needs.
Whether you qualify for government funding for child care, or you choose to take time off from work to care for your children, or you have to muster up some way to pay for child care on your own, you must find a way. It may seem like a huge stressor right now, but I promise you that investing early in your child’s education will pay dividends in your child’s future, no matter how difficult the cost is today.
In summary, I want to make it clear that this article isn’t an argument against government-funded child care programs (although I would argue that government involvement will actually increase the cost of the child care industry overall). I would love to see more input from the government to fund higher quality early childhood programs, especially for low income families who may not need the child care, but whose children need the education. I also would desperately love to see higher wages for daycare providers since they are the people who are providing a strong foundation for our children’s futures, and I see this as more feasible with government-funded child care.
Instead, this article is my plea to parents to recognize how important child care is. Until the government decides to cover these costs for parents, I beg you to scrimp and save to try to pay for quality child care. If you skimp on quality child care today, you’ll definitely notice it in your child’s future. And no matter how poor you feel you are today, that argument won’t make you feel any better when you realize in the future what a disservice you’ve done for your child!