Childcare is expensive: Should working moms quit their jobs? Can they afford to?
Finding affordable childcare in a pandemic is no small task. To find the right solutions, our team took a deep dive to find childcare alternatives for working parents. Here is why it’s hard right now to find affordable childcare, and solutions you might consider.
For working moms, juggling a career while raising children was always a bit of a house of cards. The pandemic knocked it down.
Millions of parents around the country are experiencing the same problem: the childcare system, stretched thin by the pandemic, is under severe pressure.
Working moms, especially, have hit the brink. Juggling childcare responsibilities with work is too much. Many are wondering when an end is in sight, and pondering the framework of childcare post-Covid.
Working Americans depend on childcare. But unfortunately, even as the country inches toward post-Covid reality, affordable childcare remains lagging behind.
Childcare centers have lost income during the shutdowns, and because of state and local budget cuts, have faced closure. Day care centers around the country have shuttered – some permanently — unable to balance the higher operating costs and reduced enrollment that come with the pandemic.
In the interim, families are left to improvise — having to balance child health safety with academic progress and long-term isolation.
Working moms, with little or no choice, have had to reevaluate their careers. Some have exited the workforce. Some may not return. It’s a circumstance no one should have to face. Searching for affordable childcare was never a small task — and the pandemic only made it harder.
I’ll look at what this all means, what solutions may exist, and where working moms may find affordable childcare help in the pandemic.
Childcare was a tough reality long before the pandemic
Eighty-three percent of parents of children under 5 said finding affordable care in their area was a serious problem, according to a 2018 survey. Childcare costs cut deep into the pockets of families who rely on it.
Half of all families spent more than 15% of their household income on childcare in 2019. In areas of high demand, affordability was not an option. Families in California spent 19% of their income on childcare, or more, on average.
Affordable childcare, according to Economists and the Department of Health and Human Services, is not exceeding more than 7% of household income. You’d have to have a household take-home pay of $157,000 or more to meet this model recommendation. Most single-parent households, per Census data, earned roughly a third that much.
American parents, on average, were paying $11,000 per year for infant childcare prior to the pandemic. Today, with childcare centers running under capacity to allow for social distancing guidelines, are charging more than they were pre-pandemic. Rising costs have outpriced childcare for many families who simply cannot afford it.
Childcare centers are closing
With the onset of a public health crisis, enrollment at childcare centers in the U.S. have dropped by two-thirds. More have reopened, but serve just a fraction of the number enrolled pre-pandemic. Running under capacity to comply with strict health guidelines, many centers cannot afford to operate.
Childcare centers operate on extremely tight margins in the best of times. Overhead costs were steep and profit margins were enough to get by — and that was before a pandemic set in.
Because most programs are supported entirely by tuition, fewer children means less money to keep doors open. With the pandemic, the need for additional cleaning supplies and restricted from operating at full capacity, the cost of doing business is high — and for many, not feasible.
While public schools have also had to grapple with the strain of the pandemic, they are government funded. Whereas childcare centers are not. Congress included $10 billion for childcare in its coronavirus relief bill in late December. But without further relief, the Center for American Progress says, “America could face a childcare shortage so severe that parents may not be able to rejoin the workforce, hindering an economic recovery.”
Can you afford to take a break from work?
Many working moms have elected to work less to take care of their children.
At least 13% of working parents had cut back work hours or quit due to childcare duties.
Research points to a retreat of working moms from the labor force to attend to childcare. Women in their prime-earning years — 25 to 54 — are dropping out of the workforce more than other age groups, according to federal jobs reports.
Some surveys have indicated that many out-of-work moms were not planning to accept a job, even if the opportunity presented itself, to instead focus on caregiving duties.
With childcare options in scarce supply and the cost of care having risen, many are wondering if it makes financial sense to quit their jobs to focus on childcare.
Experts say it may not be the best idea to quit your job.
Parents who leave the workforce make less when they go back to work, according to a Center for American Progress report. And losses add up over time.
Overall, the report says, parents lose up to three or four times their annual salary for every year out of the workforce.
For example, a 26-year-old mother earning $44,600 annually, the report says, would lose at least $163,000 over her lifetime taking one year off of work.
Few families can afford for mothers not to work. Mothers are now the equal, primary, or sole earners for 40% of U.S. families, according to federal labor data.
Experts say the childcare crunch will hinder economic recovery and may leave scars for years post-pandemic. For single parents, many working low-wage jobs, the ongoing lack of childcare have been devastating. Put simply, the effects of childcare strain will be felt for years to come.
What can working moms do for childcare?
For struggling families, there are childcare options.
Day care costs have risen. Meanwhile, the cost of in-home care, like a nanny, hasn’t changed all that much. Though the demand for in-home care has increased.
Nannies are, traditionally, more expensive than day care. But the risk of exposure with a nanny is substantially lower than it might be in a group setting. To cut down the costs of a nanny, you might consider pairing with another family and splitting the costs.
One option popular among working families, especially those with the ability to work from home is establishing a pod. In a pod, families or neighbors group together to share childcare responsibilities.
In this set up, one parent may take on the childcare responsibilities for a particular day or portion of the day. Most cases I have found have parents splitting up responsibilities in two or three-hour blocks, allowing the other parents to designate a focus time for work.
To make this even simpler, some families have looked to adding a nanny or childcare worker in for a few hours to help lighten the load even more.
Bonus: Keep kids entertained with some fun and free kids activities.
3. In-home Care
In-home care, in most cases, is one of the more affordable options for childcare. Thanks to their size, this home-based alternative can make more money than a standalone center given lower overhead costs. Day care is so expensive because of the costs — including staffing, building costs, utilities, and equipment. With fewer expenses, in-home care often charges less.
WeeCare is a platform designed to help grow in-home care providers. It works similar to Lyft or Uber, and helps more people operate their own in-home care. WeeCare has helped areas with little or no childcare offerings meet the sudden demand. It’s service takes care of the hard work — like marketing and billing.
WeeCare’s mission is to make childcare accessible to all families, no matter income level. If you are in need of day care, WeeCare can help connect you to an affordable day care in your area.
You might take a look at the churches in your area, as many may offer preschool or childcare in the mornings or early afternoons. Other nonprofits may also offer childcare services that cost far less than what you’d pay for at a traditional childcare provider.
Take a look at local churches as they might have space. Your local YMCA may offer childcare services, offered at a discounted rate. Worthy of mentioning: the YMCA may have time limits, so keep this in mind when evaluating the option. Even if for a few hours, it could make a lot of difference for burned out parents.
5. Band Together
It’s not easy to go at this alone. If you can, band together with other parents. If available to you, call on extended family to help, as well. Ask what you can do to help other parents in your area, and then ask how they might be able to help you in return. Shared responsibility can help ease the burden.
If there’s flexibility in your schedule, reach out to parents who may be struggling and see what you can do. It’s a lot easier to ask for help after you have extended your hand to help first.
Maybe you don’t get to the point of the pod structure. Doesn’t mean you can’t get some assistance worked out among friends, family, and neighbors. Whatever your plan looks like, it’s easier to get a handle on things when you have a helping hand — or two.
Bottom line, know that it’s OK to ask for help. We’ll get through this — together.
Net Pay Advance acknowledges the financial stress people across the U.S. are experiencing right now. We want to assure you, we’re here for you. Anything you need, you have our support.
We’re with you. And we’re here to help you any way we can.