• Paid Child Care: A Crazy Quilt of Crushing Cost

    This year is my family’s costliest one for child care. With two children in paid care arrangements we’re really feeling the pinch. It doesn’t help that we live in the costliest state for child care, according to The National Association of Child Care Resources & Referral Agencies report Parents and the High Cost Price of Child Care: A 2009 Update. Fortunately, things will ease up considerably next year when our oldest enters kindergarten and our youngest enters our town’s (paid) public pre-school program, which is far cheaper than day care.

    Day care costs and arrangements are insane in this country, at least that’s our experience. We’ve attempted to keep costs reasonable and tried lots of different arrangements. But it has been a crazy patchwork quilt. Since turning one, our older daughter has been in four day care/pre-school settings and both our children have had a half dozen different nannies or baby sitters.

    We’ve changed providers so much in part because our family’s needs have changed and in part because of quality issues. A shockingly small percentage of providers we’ve tried impress us. We’re delighted that our town’s public pre-school program is an exception. It is very impressive and has been the highest quality early childhood education our older daughter has experienced. Bravo!

    One other bit of insanity associated with child care is the web of cash flows. Take our younger daughter’s current arrangement, a nanny share with another family. There are nine different financial entities involved in flow of money from the families to the nanny:

    • Three bank accounts: one for each family, one for the nanny,
    • Two employers, each with two dependent care flexible spending accounts (I’m counting this as four entities),
    • Two governments: federal and state, for collection of payroll and income taxes, unemployment and worker’s compensation fees.

    It is a stunning amount of paperwork and shuffling of money for the care of such a cute, tiny being.

    Sometimes I wonder why child care in the U.S. is so complicated and inconvenient. Every parent goes through several years to a decade dealing with it. Few like it. Hardly any I know find it sensible or easy to manage. Nearly everyone thinks it is expensive. It sucks, and it sucks for everyone.

    One hypothesis why it doesn’t improve is that parenthood is just so darn exhausting and the demands are unrelenting. Plus, by the time you’re through with it anything you do to improve it won’t affect you. Day care is just one of the earlier challenges of parenthood, but no where near the last. When my kids are through with day care I’ll probably behave just like most other parents who dealt with it: put it behind me, try to forget about it, and not lift one damn finger in trying to fix it. I’ll be too busy dealing with the problems of primary and secondary education, among others. They’re messed up too in their own special ways.

    • As the mother of 2 and 3 year old daughters I completely empathize. We have even decided to forgoe additional children based on the cost. Having children 13 months apart was a cost effective way to get two beings to school age with the maximum amount of cost synergy. Sad right? We pay a wonderful nanny above board – which is an excrutiating web of rules and additional fees. We watch others try and side step the system but they suffer quality issues.

      I think the core issue with childcare is that it is rarely outsourced well. Parent child bonds ensure a check and balance in the wasy we care for our own. These don’t exist with outsourced care. Further, from an pure economic perpective, the industry shares none of the attractive traits normally associated with other outsourced markets – there are no synergies, no economies of scale, etc. I don’t think it can be fixed.

    • Well put, Austin. I’m in the same boat as you with 2 kids in daycare, my five year old goes part time because she has half-day kindergarten and my 2 year old is full-time. Daycare is costing me an arm and a leg but I found a great program at our local YMCA that’s similar to your public pre-school that’s a little cheaper than the other alternatives with nice facilities and a great staff.

      So what does Arthur propose widowers do with their children? Turn them over to child services because all of a sudden the surviving parent can’t pay for daycare? Or do they quit their job and go on welfare? I would be inclined to agree that if you have a low paying job you should think twice about having 8 kids but his statement basically encompasses anyone and everyone who has trouble paying for daycare, which is probably the overwhelming majority of parents who have kids in daycare.

      I don’t think it would be unthinkable for the state or federal government to fund programs to help working parents with their child care expenses. I was paying $300 a week which comes to $15,600/yr for daycare which I think would present a hardship to any middle class family. With all the money the government wastes on pork I think they could throw a little bit our way.