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Quality Childcare Isn't Just Unaffordable, It's Also Hard to Find

Photograph by Twenty20

As if having a child in 2017 wasn’t hard enough, parents still have to worry about whether or not they'll be able to find and afford adequate childcare. Often, the answer is no.

But affording childcare isn’t the only obstacle for parents—a third of parents questioned about their child care experiences in a recent survey from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the other huge obstacle is finding reliable, quality care for their kids.

In fact, securing qualified childcare is often the first hurdle parents must overcome before they even consider how they'll pay for it. Based on surveys conducted in 7,000 ZIP codes by the Center for American Progress, at least half of all the locations could be considered “childcare deserts,” meaning access to quality childcare does not meet the demand.

Stringent licensing regulations compiled with limited profits and a high level of risk make childcare, especially infant childcare, a less than optimal business opportunity for would-be providers. For moms on limited maternity leave (which is basically most moms in the U.S.) that can lead to anxiety and stress as they try to find someone to watch their child once they return to the workforce.

If that wasn’t enough of an obstacle, the outrageous cost of childcare definitely is. Parents of young children can expect to pay upwards of $9,589 per year of full-time childcare, based on an in-depth childcare report by the nonpartisan organization New America. Compare that to the average $9,410 cost for one year of in-state college tuition and it’s easy to see why daycare is such a problem for families.

Family dynamics have drastically changed since 1960 when an estimated 70 percent of families relied solely on the financial support of a working father. Today, more than 60 percent of two-parent households are dual-income households.

They’re not alone in their need to work, either. U.S. Census Bureau data shows a whopping 14 million families are led by single parents (more often, single mothers), making competent childcare during work hours especially important. Without a job, how are these families supposed to survive?

While federally funded childcare subsidies paid by the state are helpful in offsetting the extraordinary cost, they also come from a limited pool of funds. Of the more than 14.2 million families that qualify for childcare subsidies, only 1.5 million are actually receiving assistance, leaving far too many to shoulder this very real burden themselves.

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What, then, are parents to do when their job security is threatened because they can’t find, or even afford, a qualified provider to watch their child? Sadly, the answer usually falls somewhere between hiring someone less than qualified, relying on extended family and friends, or not working at all.

Horror stories abound, like the daycare provider in Florida who was caught on camera kicking a sleeping toddler in the head and the Utah toddler who died when his childcare provider accidentally sat on a beanbag he was playing under, causing him to suffocate.

According to Brigid Schulte, who authored the New American report on the explosive cost of childcare in the U.S., the solution is clear: “It's like education. When you look at the education market, it also doesn't work. It [childcare] has to be subsidized. It has to be seen as a public good."

A 2015 report on early childhood investments by the White House seems to agree. The report found an obvious correlation between parents who had access to affordable childcare and their ability to work longer hours. Sometimes it takes an official voice chiming in to get others to understand the simple math of quality childcare plus working parents equals more economic stability.

With the new incoming president, we’re left to wait and see if this administration will take an active role in ensuring parents not only have the ability to secure appropriate, qualified childcare, but also pay for it (and still have money to pay the rest of their bills). The family leave plans President-elect Trump laid out during his campaign ignored paternal leave, but would allow childcare expenses to be fully deducted from annual federal taxes. In the meantime, parents are waiting, and cutting back on basic expenses like food and transportation, to be able to keep working and supporting their families.

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