Over half of parents worry they'll be forced to spend more on child care than they did before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Parents' fears of rising child-care costs are more prevalent now than ever before. About 47% of parents who pay for child care say that they are more concerned about the costs for care now than they were before the pandemic started, according to a recent survey fielded by Care.com in May 2020 of over 2,000 U.S. parents with children under the age of 16 who pay for child care.
It's a legitimate concern: About 60% of child-care programs temporarily closed at some point during the last four months due to coronavirus, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. While states are starting to allow child-care facilities to reopen, providers may be slow to return because of strict capacity and operating rules that create financial burdens.
For some child-care centers, the pandemic is already proving too much, and they will never reopen their doors. In Alaska, five Anchorage-based providers out of 244 total in the area closed permanently since the pandemic broke out, according to Thread, an organization focused on supporting early childhood education. Across the state, 69% of all programs are open, but many of those are only serving 30 to 50% of their capacity. Overall, the U.S. could lose up to 4.5 million child-care slots if providers can't weather the shutdown and reopening process, the Center for American Progress estimates.
These closures could force parents to search out new, more expensive child-care programs. And among day cares, preschools and child-care facilities that do come back, some may need to increase the costs of tuition in order to afford the smaller class sizes, additional staff and PPE supplies.
Katie Ring, a Massachusetts-based commercial photographer and mother of two, worries about increasing costs. "Like all parents, we've already found the cost of high-quality child care is hard — it takes a big portion of our salaries," she says. "The thought that tuition prices might increase and that spots will be more difficult to find than they already are is really frightening."
Ring, 38, and her husband have two children. Before the pandemic, their 5-year-old daughter attended preschool and their almost 7-year-old son was enrolled in kindergarten. Both attended after-school care programs as well. And while school and child care for both kids was expensive, Ring says spending thousands of dollars a month was worth it because it enabled her to run her businesses.
"We don't really have room [in the budget] to pay more for after-school care next year," she says. "After-school care is not inexpensive and with two kids in it, I do start to wonder at what point I can continue to run my business and continue to afford care."
Since the pandemic, Ring's husband has been able to continue working full-time remotely, but her own business has slowed, so she's picked up more of the child-care responsibilities. But that also means that she's not able to fully focus on her business responsibilities. "It's a vicious circle," she says. "What scares me the most about this pandemic is that it forces me out of the workforce. Without full-time, quality child care and the ability to work on my business, I sort of get squeezed out," Ring says.
"Every day just feels like I'm triaging, trying to respond to client emails, trying to make sure my kids show up for their Zoom meetings for their classes, and [trying to] put everything together. It's certainly not sustainable," Ring says.
Prior to the pandemic, American families regularly paid over $11,000 a year to send their infant to a child-care center, about $10,000 for toddlers and over $9,000 for four year olds, according to Child Care Aware of America's 2019 report.
According to the recent Care.com data, the costs parents pay for all different kinds of child-care coverage, including nannies, au pairs, child-care centers, home-based providers and after-school care programs, rose, on average, about 28% over the past six years. In fact, nearly three out of four parents surveyed say they spend at least 10% of their annual income on child care, many paying significantly more.
"Child care in our country is at breaking point," Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) said last week on a press call, saying that the situation calls for federal funding and support. To that end, Clark teamed up with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) to introduce the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act on Thursday. The bill aims to provide tax credits for families and payroll tax credits for child-care providers, as well as a $10 billion investment to improve care facilities and infrastructure.
"We cannot let this system fall through the cracks and abandon women and children in the process," Clark says. The bill has been included in the House Ways and Means Committee new infrastructure bill, which is expected to have bipartisan support.
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In addition to Clark's bill, several Democratic lawmakers introduced the Child Care is Essential Act at the end of May. That legislation would create a $50 billion "child-care stabilization fund" to provide grants to help pay for personnel, sanitation, training and other costs associated with reopening and running a child-care facility right now. In the House of Representatives, the bill has been assigned to the House Budget committee and currently only has about a 4% chance of being enacted, according to predictive intelligence firm Skopos Labs.
In the end, industry advocates worry parents like Ring may be on their own to shoulder higher costs and fewer child-care options if federal and state lawmakers don't provide much-needed support soon. The child-care center Ring's kids attend is opening for summer camp, but it's only half day and the cost is $350 a week.
"It's far more affordable to hire a babysitter instead and so that is our plan this summer," Ring says. But it's not a long-term solution, and she's still uncertain about school and after-school care in the fall.
"If my child care fails, my business fails," Ring says. "We need the costs to stay the same. I don't have the wiggle room to pay more for child care."
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