Daycare Costs More than College in 31 States.

Data journalist Christopher Ingraham has an interesting piece up at the Washington Post right now. We all know college is expensive, but when compared to day care costs we have a new reality:

“A report last fall by Child Care Aware America, a national organization of child-care resource and referral agencies, found that the annual cost of day care for an infant exceeds the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges in 31 states. The biggest gap is in New York, where day care will set you back nearly 15 grand, but in-state college tuition is only $6,500 — a difference of over $8,000. Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado and Oregon also have large gaps, driven primarily by the high cost of day care in those states. At the other end of the spectrum is South Carolina, where in-state tuition is higher than the cost of day care by about $4,000 a year.”

Inhraham points out that the average age of child birth is now 26. This means that moms and dads are still paying on their own student loans by the time the first day care bill arrives. So, how are people coping? In particular, how is this impacting the most vulnerable among us?

“A report out Tuesday by the Pew Research Center finds that an increasing number of parents are simply avoiding child care costs by staying at home. Nearly 30 percent of moms stay at home now, up from only 23 percent in 1999. For many families it simply makes more financial sense for a parent to stay home with a young child than it does to incur thousands of dollars in day-care costs. Pew reports that only five percent of “U.S. married stay-at-home mothers (with working husbands) had at least a master’s degree and family income exceeding $75,000.” This suggests that stay-at-home motherhood is primarily increasing among the lower and middle classes, and that it’s driven primarily by having too little money, rather than too much of it.”

For some, their first reaction to the fact that more moms are staying home will be that this is a good thing. You have to be careful with this thought, and think before you say it. You need to be friends with more working moms and pay attention to their gifts and the amazing things they contribute to our world.

My first reaction was to worry about how this impacts the lower and middle class. Generally, the working poor do not have the luxury of one parent staying home with the kids. Two incomes are necessary in order to make ends meet. But Ingraham’s report shows that more and more Lower Class parents are staying home with kids, a fact that is driven “by having too little money, rather than too much of it.”

It’s not just a matter of whether or not childcare is cost effective for the, or whether staying at home is better for children, and so on. The working poor deal with much more fragile work situations. Their jobs are not as stable, and often the work is seasonal. Two jobs are essential because one job can, and often will, disappear – either completely or for big chunks of the year. Two income sources will make for a much more stable family among the working poor. But the price of day care is taking that option away. Middle class families experience a similar phenomenon.

What do you think of this?

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • Eve Fisher

    Excellent posting. Here is the list of facts that need (somehow) to be reconciled:

    (1) Day care is absolutely too expensive, but mostly because jobs pay too little, and few jobs provide day care or day care subsidies as a benefit.

    (2) Most day care workers make minimum wage to take care of multiple children. Some (not all!) day care centers are understaffed and overcrowded, because otherwise there’s no profit margin.

    (3) Two jobs are necessary for most families for all of the reasons you noted above – it takes more than one income to support everyone, you need a second job as back-up, etc. And there’s the little fact that many people want to work at something that satisfies them.

    (4) Many day care centers charge a full week, no matter how many days the parents actually use the day care; thus, if Bobby’s sick for four days and well for one, the parents still have to pay for the full week. Also, many day care centers aren’t available for sudden emergencies – such as school closings.

    (5) While politicians are all about family values, the truth is that having children is treated as if it were like having a dog – what do you mean, you need somewhere to leave your dog? what do you mean, the dog is sick? what do you mean, you want time off to get another dog? what do you mean, you need help with boarding fees?

    And this doesn’t even take into account the high cost of diapers – at $20.00 a week, that’s 3 hours labor of a minimum wage job per child in diapers. And you can’t buy diapers with food stamps.

  • soused rat

    More happens in human development during the first 2 years of life than at any other time, so the care that an infant needs far exceeds what a 20-yr-old college student needs. So, in some way the cost comparison shows day care as a real bargain. But the question there is: does our present day care system actually meet the needs of an infant?

    This article brings up economic questions that are so basic to the US today: why do so many people have to work such long hours for so little reward? Why cannot families survive on one salary? If it cost so much for diapers, is there a cheaper better way to do this? (Just using diapers as an example.) Why are there so many people who do no work and have so much money? How does our present focus on investments/stock market feed into low wages and struggling families?

    Day care workers are not well paid but do these large daycare chains give a good return to their investors? How many poorly paid workers have a CEO who pulls millions out of the company every year? THe problem with the cost of daycare is the just one more problem we see with our huge separation of the have and have nots and it is only getting worse.


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