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Is there a child care crisis in America?

With the average cost of full-time day care for a 4-year-old approaching the cost of college tuition, families are desperate to find affordable options.

By Smart Spending Editor Aug 15, 2013 7:04PM
This post is by Christina Couch of partner site The Fiscal Times.

MSN Money PartnerParents of school-aged children are breathing a sigh of relief this month, as they send their kids back to school and say goodbye to pricey summer camp bills. Parents of younger children are not so lucky. 

Image: Baby (© Rubberball/Jupiterimages)The Census Bureau estimates that on any given week about 12.5 million children under age five are enrolled in some form of childcare, but the struggle to find affordable, quality care has become so difficult, some are calling it a crisis.

According to Childcare Aware of America, a childcare advocacy nonprofit, the average cost of full-time daycare for a four-year old ranges from $3,900 to $11,700 per year with urban parents paying 28% more, on average, than rural parents in the same state.

It’s no wonder the birth-rate has been dropping.

In 20 states and the District of Columbia, the cost of day care for two children exceeds the average mortgage payment, and in 36 states and the District of Columbia, a year of daycare for an infant costs more than a year of tuition at an in-state college. But unlike college costs, there is currently no system of public financing to help make childcare more affordable. (New York has launched a pilot program making low-interest loans available to families who need help covering child care costs.)

Although the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that families spend only 10% of their combined income on childcare, that’s tough for middle-income families and almost impossible for low-income families without a federal subsidy, says Michelle Noth McCready, a senior state and local policy adviser for Child Care Aware of AmericaCCAA. The cost of full-time care for one infant ranges from about 7% to 16% of the median income for a married couple.

When Jeannie Stephenson’s son was born in 2011, she realized her bakery job wouldn’t cover day care costs near her pricey South Loop, Chicago neighborhood. Stephenson was able to stop working (relying on her husband’s income to cover rent and family expenses) and stay home with her baby. She even brought in extra money by caring for another couple’s infant as well.

But Stephenson wanted to go back to work, so she and her husband decided to make some big changes. They moved to a bigger apartment in a cheaper neighborhood. That let them hire a nanny, who takes care of their child while Jeannie goes to work. The nanny also rents a room in the couple’s larger apartment, which offsets some of the expense of his salary.

Stephenson estimates that the arrangement saves her about $500 per month compared to the cost of nearby childcare facilities.

While urban parents may have access to day care alternatives like live-in care, nanny-shares, and childcare co-ops, rural parents and often have fewer choices, lower incomes, and limited public transportation says Kathleen Belanger, a social work professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX, and a member of Rural Policy Research Institute's human services panel.

Even in locales with an abundance of child care facilities, quality is a concern. A 2013 study by Child Care Aware of AmericaCCAA that measured how well day care facilities adhered to state licensing requirements showed that all states, on average, earned a "C" grade or below on a standard grading scale. Facilities that maintain above-par standards frequently have a waiting list.

"I found out that I was pregnant in May and when I was talking to some friends in July, my friend said 'If you're not on a waiting list for a daycare by now, you might not get into daycare. I was [two] months pregnant at the time,'" explains Becca Perez, a research analyst based in the small town of Blacksburg, Va. "There were a lot of daycares in the area here, but not a lot that we would consider putting our daughter in."

Of the 19 licensed daycare facilities listed in Blacksburg area codes by the Virginia Department of Social Services, only four were free of licensing violations in the past two years. These violations ranged from minor infractions to more serious issues.

More than a year later, Perez's now six-month-old daughter is still on waiting lists for two day care centers. Perez and her husband switch off on child care duties while she works during the day and he does consulting work from home at night. Perez says that they're satisfied with the arrangement and that it saves about $750 a month in expenses.

"I think even if we did (get into a day care), we'd probably still keep up with this plan," she says.

More from The Fiscal Times:

Aug 15, 2013 10:58PM
They still pay dirt to day care workers, sadly.
Aug 15, 2013 9:59PM
To those who say a parent should stay at home...right...UNTIL that single earner loses his job in a recession...and then people such as yourself are the first to yell...why did they have children?  These days both have to work...that way if one parent temporarily is out of work, they do not lose everything they ever worked for Plus any security for their children!
Aug 15, 2013 9:22PM
The cost of childcare across this country is highway robbery, and sometime, the facilities are not where you would want your child to be all day. It is always a good idea to drop in unannounced once in a while so you can see what really goes on.  This is one more reason couples should think a long time about having children, especially  if they plan to put them in daycare so both parents can continue to work.  If you do have more than one child in daycare, you are most likely living within the poverty level unless you are already making a high wage. Daycares charge these exorbitant prices because they can; they have you cornered.  So many parents don't have a choice.  As a consequence, some of us (retired) grandparents are really tired!!!  
Aug 15, 2013 11:34PM
I haven't forgotten why I never started a family! Too expensive and for me, I felt, was always unaffordable.
Aug 16, 2013 9:00AM
Sadly, this dynamic is producing lower-quality Americans.  Conscientious folks that would make great parents are not having children these days because it is too expensive.  People that do not care how their children are raised continue to breed in large numbers, increasing poverty and suffering.  The best solution is for one parent to work, and the other to stay home and raise their kids.  However, with corporate greed at all time highs leaving workers with no job security at all, this really isn't an option either.  Watch the movie 'Idiocracy'  to see the eventual outcome.
Aug 16, 2013 12:39AM

You've got to be sh1tt1ng me! No more than 10% of income for daycare??????? My husband and I were both active duty military. Our take home pay was around $3000 a month (early 1990's and we lived on base). Daycare on base would've been $1500 - $1800 a month. We found some downtown for $600 - $800 a month, unfortunately, downtown was 22 miles one way.


When we got transferred to Texas, my job transferred, but I lost most of my hours and 35% of my pay - TX had a different pay scale than ND so it wouldn't be fair for me to keep making what I was making up north (according to who?). I had to quit after a year or so because I got tired of paying more than I was making in day care. My checks would be around $75 or so, then I had to borrow another $25 - $30 from my husband on top of the entire $75 of my paycheck to pay for the daycare while I was working.

Aug 15, 2013 7:45PM
The US spends less public funds on early childhood education than nearly every other industrialized modern nation. It is no surprise parents can not afford child care. If less public fudns are available, then it is up to business to step up to privately fund such programs. That is of course, if they want a better educated workforce to draw from in the future.
Aug 15, 2013 7:42PM
Why have kids if you're going to let someone else raise them?   If you figure in the costs of daycare, dry cleaning, lunches out, extra gas costs, etc..., having a s stay-at-home parent is more feasible a lot of times anyway, especially if they can find a way to earn a little extra income from home.
Aug 16, 2013 9:52AM
Visit a day care and see if you want your kids there.  Yelling, biting, pushing, fighting- mean kids.  A professor friend of mine did a study.  No surprise day care kids more aggressive.  The infant room has multiple crying babies and a couple under paid college kids.  We worked different shifts so one was home.  There are weekend and part time jobs.  We did that for years.  Live within your means.  You don't need a mansion and fancy vacations.  LOOK at our school system.  Kids have no respect.  A friend drops off her daughter from 6 am to 6 pm every day.  Does any one think that is good for a one year old.  We have three great kids- none in day care.  They charge 200 dollars a week for day care.
Aug 16, 2013 9:23AM
Uhmmm,....could the parents care for their children,,,,,no, that is crazy talk.

Just keep cranking them out and ask someone else to take responsibility,...That's the answer

Aug 15, 2013 9:39PM
I'm going to have kids while my mother is still young enough to raise them.
Aug 16, 2013 9:54AM

Children are beutiful, they bring lots of joy but they are expensive and cost alot of money, time and effot to raise.  if you can't afford to care, feed, house and pay for daycare if you work then don't have them.  Those complaining about the cost are not better than the welfare baby mama's that want help in caring for a baby we taxpayers did not have the pleasure of making.

I also believe in getting rid of the child credit.

Aug 16, 2013 12:53AM
As a society we have entirely under valued the role of Mother. If boys and girls would get married young and women stayed home to raise the children during their formative years we would have a much better society, less unemployment, a better educated and more well behaved populace. We have placed too much importance on material gain and a poor conception of gender equality. Eventually I'm sure things will change back as has already happened several times in the course of history. Until then those with the least lose the most and are told this makes them somehow more free.
Aug 16, 2013 11:28AM
Because the state subsidizes day care costs for welfare receipients, this distorts the market price for day care.  If you had the extra 20-30% parents trying to shop for the best deal rather than get it "free", then prices would be lower.
Aug 16, 2013 11:22AM
There would be many benefits to society if daycare could be integrated into the educational system by expanding the hours the school is open to the hours a typical daycare is open and offering classroom instruction as early as age 3 (and on the other end an optional grade 13 for those not ready for college who want to further their education or vocational training). I wouldn't suggest that mandatory classroom time be expanded to fill all of those hours - the time could be used for play, optional classes, tutoring or the type of extra-curricular activities already offered at school, simply that it would be available free to all to accommodate working parents. I'm also not suggesting anyone be required to put a 3yo in school - children of any age are allowed to be home schooled. What I'm suggesting is that by having structured education in place at an earlier age, children will be better prepared for kindergarten and able to start academics earlier. By starting academics earlier, by high school age, more students would be able to take advantage of the college level courses offered and reduce the amount of time and money spent on higher education or take advantage of vocational training without having to choose between a traditional education and a vocational education. If parents knew that by age 3, their child care expenses would be over, they could better afford to stay home longer during the infant and toddler years when parent bonding is more important and daycare costs are higher. It would be interesting if someone did a study on the cost to society of this scenario vs subsidizing daycare, subsidizing remedial education at community college, lost tax revenue from people out of the workforce and providing various social benefits to low income families who can't afford to work because they can't afford child care.
Aug 16, 2013 5:56AM
All part of the governmental plan to drain the US economy. The Communist is doing well, and the people don't have a clue. All you planners and schemers, look where all your planning and scheming has gotten you.
Aug 16, 2013 7:55AM
I remember 20 yrs ago growing up my parents only having to pay babysitters  $2/hr. Now they cost $8-$10/hr - crazy. Watching TV playing w/kids was an easy and fun job, now I guess people learned to love money more than children.
Aug 16, 2013 9:05AM
My parents worked opposite shifts and I literally NEVER had a baby sitter, aside from a  literal few times a relative watched me.  It was certainly rough on them, but still a very viable option, especially for those in retail or food service.
Aug 16, 2013 12:45AM
How about not having kids if you can't afford them. The government & the taxpayers should not have to pay for other peoples kids. Both in this country & in others. And if "dads" can't pay child support, their names go in the paper and online once a month until they can. This goes for minors also
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