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High Cost of Childcare in the US

Families in the US are spending a large percentage of their take-home pay on child care.  According to Child Care Aware ® of America*, the US Department of Health and Human Services defines affordable child care as that which consumes approximately 10% of the family income.  However, in most states, the average cost of child care exceeds 10% of family income in a family with two income-earner parents in the home.

Some parents have decided that the fiscally prudent course is to reduce their household income (by one parent refraining from working outside the home) so as to eliminate the need for child care expenses.  In essence, one of the parents is projected to earn an annualized income that approximately equals or is less than the family child care expenses.  Assuming that both parents want to return to work, this outcome is not desirable.

Some parents choose to work opposite shifts so as to eliminate the need for child care expenses.  This option has the benefit of allowing both parents to earn incomes outside of the home, but working opposite shifts can create difficulties in the form of communication challenges, diminished quality time together as a couple and as a family, and subsequent relationship challenges.  Thus, this outcome is often not desirable as well.

Some parents choose to send their children to substandard child care arrangements to save child care costs.  However, given what we now know of child brain development, we understand that it is crucial to teach as much as reasonably possible to young learners.  This period of brain development and knowledge acquisition sets the stage for future learning and success.  Thus, this outcome too is not desirable.

Large employers often recognize the difficulties that families with young children face.  In an effort to recruit and retain valued employees, these large employers often offer their employees reduced-fee on-site daycare centers and discounts at off-site day care centers.  But what about employees who work for employers too small to offer this employment benefit?

Government agencies provide child care fee assistance to families who qualify based on their annualized incomes.  However, many families fall into “the gap”: they earn too much to qualify for government assistance but too little to be able to afford quality child care.

Families can enlist the assistance of relatives, friends, and neighbors who may be willing to provide childcare.  However, these unlicensed child care options often do not provide the quality of child care desired (see paragraph above on the importance of teaching young learners).

As difficult as this problem is, it is magnified for single parent families, immigrant families, families with children with special needs, and families with parents who work non-traditional hours.

The high cost of child care in the US is a problem that offers no imminent solution.  It appears, however, that the most effective means of addressing this difficulty is through legislative action.  Interested, informed parents are encouraged to contact their legislators to advocate for the needs of families with young children.  It is only through this grass roots movement can legislators come to respond to the urgency of this need.

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