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Here’s What Could Change if America Adopted Universal Childcare

May 11, 2018
Working Mother magazine

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 schedulessignificantly because of childcare conflicts—and, of course, women have been hit the hardest. Since the 1980s, childcare 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 day care, the average cost of daycare in the United States is $11,666 per year (or $972 a month), according to the National Association of Childcare 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, annual costs can outpace what families typically spend on food and, in many states, even housing and college tuition.

“In Massachusetts, for example, where childcare costs are some of the highest in the country, a parent with an infant spends an average of $20,125 each year on daycare; 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 daycare 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 childcare program for everyone, regardless of income.

Nearly eight million families pay these hefty prices for nannies, daycare 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 “childcare deserts,” where daycare centers don’t exist or there are more than three times as many kids as available spots in them.