America, Land of Prohibitive Child Care Costs

What Women Really Think
Aug. 19 2013 1:11 PM

Congratulations, America! Only the Rich Can Afford to Have Kids in You.

130129_SCI_ChildhoodHomoSapiens
Good for kids, good for you

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images/Thinkstock.

Child care costs aren’t just crushing parents in New York, where everything is more expensive. They’re crushing parents across the country. As Alissa Quart points out in an enraging op-ed in the New York Times, “In 35 states and D.C., even the cost of center-based day care (let alone a nanny) is higher than the cost of a year of a public college.” What’s more, in 28 states, yearly child care for two kids costs more than a parent earns from a 40-hour per week job at minimum wage.

There are two common ripostes to this problem from those who don’t think it’s the government’s job to help parents pay for child care. The first is that people shouldn’t have kids they can’t “afford.” At this point, that means only the well-off can afford to have kids. Quart interviews lawyers, professors, and accountants who are all barely making ends meet after they pay for child care.

Advertisement

The other response is that one parent should stay home if a family can’t afford child care. But that too is a simplistic answer. Child care isn’t the only expense—most families need two working parents to feed and clothe their offspring. Also, if one parent—and yes, it’s usually the woman—stops working for a prolonged period of time, this has a ripple effect on the future earning potential for the entire family. For every two years a woman is out of the workforce, her earnings fall 10 percent.

Children are going to be born to Americans who are not wealthy. This is a fact. Those children need to be cared for, for their own good and the good of society—another fact. According to Helen Blank, the director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, parents pay about 60 percent of child care costs, the government pays about 39 percent through tax credits or directly subsidizing child care, and the private sector pays less than 1 percent. That’s a calculus that has to change, but there’s no miracle solution, Blank says.

“There’s been progress for 3s and 4s,” Blank explains, with more states funding universal prekindergarten and with Obama proposing a federal tobacco tax to pay for expanded early childhood education. But from birth to toddlerhood, American parents are generally on their own, with only 11 percent of American parents getting any paid family leave after their children are born.

There’s no quick fix, but quality child care should be an extremely important cultural imperative. Whether parents get help with funding from larger tax credits, more subsidies, or even through the largess of a Bill Gates–style billionaire, it is in the interest of everyone—not just parents—that our youngest citizens get the care they need and deserve, no matter how much money their parents make.  

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Movies
Sept. 19 2014 2:06 PM The Guest and Fort Bliss How do we tell the stories of soldiers returning home from war?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.