Lack of affordable child care: Tough on families, drag on the economy

By: - October 15, 2018 5:28 am
war time

New Britain, Connecticut. A child care center opened September 15, 1942, for thirty children, ages two through five of mothers engaged in war industry. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-DIG-fsa-8d31617]

Elizabeth and her husband pay $1,000 per month to keep their two young girls — ages 2 and 4 — in daycare four days a week. The couple considers themselves lucky. They should be paying $1,400 per month but the friend who referred them to their daycare is buddies with its owner, so they snagged a hefty discount. That works out to $6,000 annually per child, or $12,000 for both.

Russell Dauberman and his wife put their 15-month-old boy in daycare three days per week. This costs them $42 per day. That works out to $6,552 annually.

Brittany and her husband pay $430 per week to keep their two young children — ages 3 and 1 — in daycare. That works out to $11,180 annually per child, or $22,360 for both.

Child care is expensive.

According to a new report by the Children’s Advocacy Alliance and the Nevada Institute For Children’s Research And Policy (NICRP), the average annual cost of child care in licensed centers here in Nevada ranges from $11,137 for an infant to $8,835 for preschoolers. Parents who cannot afford that price tag sometimes turn to unlicensed and unregulated in-home care providers who typically charge less. Some are fortunate enough to have extended family members who will watch children for free or at least less than what the in-home providers charge. Couples will intentionally work opposite schedules — one a daytime shift, the other a swing or overnight — to lessen the need for outside care.

All this is often seen as the mandatory price of parenthood.

It doesn’t have to be.

Advocates are increasingly pushing to reframe the conversation around child care. They argue that allocating public funds toward things like child care subsidies and early childhood education is a long-term investment that creates a positive rippling effect, saving money over the lifetime of children, not only for their parents but also the communities they live in. Some estimates put the return on investment as high as 13 percent.

According to a survey released by the Center for American Progress last month, the public is hungry for solutions to their child care challenges: “[V]oters across the board—particularly parents of younger children and mothers in general—strongly desire increased congressional and state action to address the crisis of affordable child care and to expand early education options. Voters at all stages of life, and across political lines, overwhelmingly back specific proposals to provide sliding-scale support for working parents to help afford good child care, to increase standards and oversight in child care facilities, and to improve the professionalization and pay of child care workers.”

Despite this, few politicians are making child care reform a key component of their election platform. Education has taken center stage in the governor’s race between Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and Attorney General Adam Laxalt, but the talking points have primarily focused on the K-12 public school system.

Affordable child care and early childhood education are a challenge for families across the country, but Nevadans have it particularly bad. Nevada ranks 41st for state spending per capita on preschool programs. The national average for state spending per capita on preschool programs is $955.22.

Nevada only invests $65.79.

As a result, the state is ranked 48th in the nation for preschool enrollment. Only 36.7 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled. The majority of those are in private facilities. Only 12 percent of preschoolers are in federally or state-funded programs. The consensus among the educational community is that high quality early childhood education leads to future educational success. Some states have moved toward universal preschool. Nevada is still struggling to fund all-day kindergarten.

For parents of infants and toddlers, daycare eats up significant percentages of their pay. One 2016 report showed that more than a quarter — 26.5 percent — of all families with young children who have child care costs are “cost burdened” and spend more than 10 percent of their family income on child care.

Dual-income households and white-collar workers often feel the strain but can manage by cutting out discretionary spending. Those most affected are single-income and low-income households.

The Children’s Advocacy Alliance report notes that a single parent with an infant and preschooler living at 100 percent of poverty — $1,702 a month — would spend 97 percent of her income on center-based care for her children. A parent making the state minimum wage would spend more than her annual salary on child care for two children.

Subsidies are available but problems abound, says Denise Tanata of Children’s Advocacy Alliance. The reimbursement rate — what the daycare center would receive from the government — is based on 2004 market rates. That means the daycare provider typically passes along the remainder of the cost to parents. That difference is often too much of a burden for single parents and low-income households to bear.

Additionally, the requirements for receiving a child care subsidy are more restrictive than in years past.

“I was a single mom struggling here (in Nevada) to make ends meet,” says Tanata. “I decided to go back to school. It was because of child care subsidies that I was able to. Someone in that position today wouldn’t qualify because it’s not allowable.”

Tanata and the Children’s Advocacy Alliance want to open up the eligibility requirements to help more people pull themselves out of poverty, and they want the reimbursement rate to be set by the current market.

These solutions would only apply to households in the lowest income brackets. Tanata acknowledges this, noting that the places with the most supportive programs and policies for working families are located in Europe.

“We’re a long way from that,” she says. “Not only in the U.S. but particularly in Nevada. That is why right now there is a lot of emphasis on where we can start. Slowly we can build up.”

Public funding for universal child care centers isn’t completely unheard here in the United States. During World War II, as a result of women entering the workforce en masse, the modern-day equivalent of $1 billion of federal and local dollars were invested in an expansive network of child care services. Historians say it marked the first time the government put money toward child care for all families rather than just the poorest. When the war ended, working mothers and progressive groups fought to keep the program alive. They ultimately failed, which forced many women out of the workforce and back into the home.

In 1971, Congress passed the bipartisan Comprehensive Child Development Act. It would have created a system of federally funded child care centers that charged fees based off family income level. President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill, saying it would “commit the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing over the family-centered.”

Economic inequality has only grown in the decades since, putting a greater strain on families. One 2016 survey by the State of Nevada found that 52 percent of women believed unavailable or unaffordable childcare was a barrier to success. Other studies have found that women’s economic outlook improves with access to affordable, high quality child care.

Until solutions are found, working parents say they will continue the familiar song and dance of juggling careers and child care. Russell Dauberman and his wife have different days off, which means they only need three days of daycare. That helps keep costs affordable for their salaries — he works in a call center; she works at Walmart. Both have to work. He has the higher salary, but she has better health insurance for baby. They are getting by.

“We don’t struggle with daily bills but we don’t have much else,” he adds.

Brittany works as a drafter. She asked that her full name not be used so she could speak candidly about her employment. She has no paid time off and no sick days. Luckily, the company where her husband works as an auditor does, so when one or both of their children are sick and can’t go to daycare, he is able to adjust his schedule. She says it gives her “mom guilt” but her family needs the income, so she has to put up with a workplace that’s not family friendly.

“I often feel it’s frowned upon every time I need to leave to take care of one of (my kids),” she said.

Elizabeth similarly expressed mixed feelings about her employment. She feels her career advancement is hindered because she can’t put in extra hours at the office on weeknights or weekends. Her kids can only stay in daycare for so many hours, and that’s to say nothing of the fact that she simply wants to spend time with her family.

“Daycare will always be an issue,” she adds.

If Elizabeth and her husband have a third child, then her leaving the workforce is inevitable. Her career is important to her, but the odds are stacked against her.

“There are higher expectations and still not enough support for working parents from companies,” she says.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.