In 1970, about half of all American mothers stayed home to care for their children, but that family model has fallen from 46 percent then to about a quarter in 2015. That means that, by 2016, nearly two million parents with kids ages five and younger had to quit their jobs, turn down jobs or change their work schedules significantly because of child care conflicts — and, of course, women have been hit the hardest. Since the 1980s, child care costs have climbed 70 percent and the population of working mothers in the labor force has declined 13 percent.
While the cost of childcare is dependent upon where families live, their children's ages and how many hours a week their child or children spend in daycare, the average cost of daycare in the United States is $11,666 per year (or $972 a month), according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. Prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year (or $300 to $1,564 monthly), which means that, regardless of how inexpensive a daycare center feels comparatively, it still costs a pretty penny. In fact, annuals costs can outpace what families typically spend on food and, in many states, even housing and college tuition.
"In Massachusetts, for example, where child care costs are some of the highest in the country, a parent with an infant spends an average of $20,125 each year on day care; freshman-year tuition at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, runs only $14,596," writes New Republic contributor, Bryce Covert in his piece, A New Deal for Day Care. "The expense doesn’t necessarily result in good care: Fewer than 10 percent of day care centers, according to a 2006 survey, have well-trained and well-educated providers, who read books aloud to children, respond to them, ask questions, and encourage their development."
Sure there are options like turning to family or friends, joining babysitting cooperatives, hiring college students for less money, forming babysitting exchanges with other parents, looking to non-profit centers and more, but Covert recommends that America consider a child care program for everyone, regardless of income.
Nearly eight million families pay these hefty prices for nannies, day care centers or some sort of childcare alternative, according to census data. And though that's a high number, many parents can't afford it or don't even have access to it because they live in "child care deserts," where day care centers don't exist or there are more than three times as many kids as available spots in them.
"The extent of the economic damage has forced politicians from both parties to alter their views of child care," Covert writes. "Within the last five years, some Republicans, who have typically hewed to traditional ideas about families and households, have adopted more modern ideas about how to help parents find care for their children... There is a growing willingness to address the problem, though, which leaves Democrats with an opening to put forward something better. But in September, when the party unveiled the child care plank of its 'Better Deal' agenda, it consisted of a punishing maze of technical details."
Lawmakers could, instead, create a system that'd make high-quality child care available to and affordable for all American families, for the entire working day, Covert suggests, admitting that it sounds fanciful.
Other countries already do so. He refers to France, where parents can send their babies to both publicly and privately run nurseries, called crèches, when their children turn three months old, according to Expatica. The centers, which are open most of the workday and require at least half of their providers to have degrees in early education, charge based on parental income. Then once children turn three, they’re guaranteed a spot in the country’s universal preschool program until they turn six, and more than 95 percent of kids are enrolled. To pull this off, France spent about 27 billion euros (about $33 billion USD) in 2013—about 1.3 percent of its GDP. Meanwhile, the United States spends less on child care and early childhood education than all other developed countries except Turkey, Latvia and Croatia, Covert explains.