Child Care Costs
Child care costs have nearly doubled in the last quarter century while the percentage of families who pay for child care has declined, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011 released today. The percent of family income spent on child care has stayed constant between 1986 (the first time these data were collected) and 2011, at around 7 percent, for families who paid for child care even though the cost of child care costs has increased over time.
“Perhaps the most critical decision parents make in balancing their work and home life is choosing the type of care to provide for their children while they work,” said report author Lynda Laughlin, a family demographer in the Census Bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch. “Child care arrangements and the financial burden they impose on families are important issues for policymakers and anyone concerned about the welfare of children. This report is unique in that it is not only the sole study from the Census Bureau on this topic, but also provides a consistent time-series on trends going back to the mid-1980s.”
Families with an employed mother and children younger than 15 (see chart) paid an average of $143 per week for child care in 2011, up from $84 in 1985 (in constant 2011 dollars).
The median wage for a full-time child care worker did not increase over the last 20 years. The median wage for a child care worker in 2011 was $19,098, not different from $19,680 in 1990 (in constant 2011 dollars).
The percent of families who reported they made a cash payment for child care for at least one of their children declined from 42 percent to 32 percent between 1997 and 2011.
Since 1997, the use of organized day care centers and father-provided care for preschoolers has increased, while the proportion of children cared for by non-relatives in the provider’s home has declined. (There was a change in the data collection methodology in the mid-1990s; 1997 was the first year of data that was affected by this change.)
The report, Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011, and accompanying detailed tables provide data on child care arrangements of preschoolers and grade schoolers by various demographic characteristics of employed and non-employed mothers. They also examine the size of weekly child care costs made by selected characteristics of the family.
Meanwhile, more older children (age 5 to 14) have some sort of adult supervision after school or in the evening. Specifically, about one in seven grade school-age children living with a single, employed parent cared for themselves on a regular basis in 2011, down from almost one in four in 1997. That’s a fall from 7.3 million to 4.2 million.
The decline in self-care among these children may be related to changes in child care arrangements,” Laughlin said. “More children are in after-school programs as funding for them has increased. Additionally, parents’ work schedules may now be more closely mirroring school schedules.”
According to the report, self-care was much more prevalent among middle school-age children than among those in elementary school. Five percent of children age 5 to 11 (1.3 million) and 27 percent of children (2.9 million) age 12 to 14 regularly cared for themselves. On average, children spent an average of seven hours per week in self-care. Fifty-six percent of children age 5 to 14 spent less than five hours per week without adult supervision, and 23 percent spent more than 10 hours a week unsupervised.
Child care options outside the home have expanded in recent decades. This is illustrated by a series of maps and detailed tables also released today for states and counties from the economic census indicating that the supply of child care facilities varies across the United States. The tables show that in 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 766,401 child care facilities in the U.S., up from 262,511 facilities in 1987. These establishments include family day care, for-profit child care centers and nonprofit child care centers.
Among states, the average number of facilities per 1,000 children under 5 was 37. North Dakota had the highest ratio of child care facilities per 1,000 children at 80. Nevada had the lowest rate at 17 facilities per 1,000 children under 5. Among counties, there was an average of four child care facilities per 1,000 children. Bronx County, N.Y., had the highest ratio with approximately 18 facilities per 1,000 children under 5.
In a typical week during spring 2011, 12.5 million, or 61 percent, of the 20.4 million children under 5 were in some type of regular child care arrangement.
Family members continue to serve as an important source of child care for preschoolers. In 2011, 24 percent of preschoolers were regularly cared for by their grandparents, 18 percent by their fathers (while their mothers worked) and 10 percent by a sibling or other relative. The percentage of preschoolers cared for by grandparents has risen from 1997, when it was 21 percent.
Similar percentages of preschoolers with employed black or non-Hispanic white employed mothers were cared for by grandparents (32 percent and 31 percent, respectively).
Hours in Care
On average, preschoolers with employed mothers spent 15 hours more in child care than children with non-employed mothers: 36 hours per week and 21 hours per week, respectively.
Preschoolers whose mothers worked nights or evenings were more likely to have their father as a child care provider than those with mothers who worked a day shift (42 percent and 23 percent, respectively).
The use of any father care among Hispanic children with employed mothers increased to 32 percent in 2011, up from 20 percent in 2005.
Child Care Costs
Mothers with children under 5 were more likely to make child care payments than mothers with children only between 5 and 14 (46 percent and 23 percent, respectively).
While the cost of child care increased over time, the percent of monthly family income spent on child care stayed constant between 1997 and 2011, at around 7 percent.
Families in poverty who paid for child care in 2011 spent a greater proportion of their monthly income on child care than did families at or above the poverty line (30 percent compared with 8 percent).
The statistics in this report were collected from January through April 2011 in the Survey of Income and Program Participation.
The Hidden Costs of Child Care
It’s hardly a secret that raising children is an expensive endeavor in modern society. Many families are accustomed to a two-income lifestyle until their first child arrives. The adjustment in income and lifestyle can be quite a shock. In some cases, one parent will quit work to care for the child full time, at the cost of career momentum and income. In other cases, the parents will pay a fortune for the privilege of sending their kids to a day care provider while they work, which may carry with it a sense of guilt. Others hire a nanny or babysitter to take care of children at home. Unfortunately, in either of these cases the children may spend more time with their carers than with their parents in a normal week.
Much has been said about rising child care costs, with pressure from parents and the providers on the Government to find solutions to the problem. However, even if parents choose to accept the cost of full time day care for their children and budget for the expense, there are a number of hidden expenses associated with child care that can add up and change the balance of the equation.
It is inescapable that you’ll be late from time to time, regardless of whether it is your fault or not. A meeting run overtime, traffic congestion or a breakdown – these things happen. But when you’re late to pick up your children from care, this can add additional late fees if they need to stay past the provider’s normal hours. Even if you pay a nanny to care for your children at home, they may be entitled to receive overtime if they work too many hours in a week.
Driving to and from a day care center, especially if it is far from your normal route to work and home, can add up significantly over time. Fuel costs affect you immediately while additional wear and tear on your vehicle can increase repair bills, increase depreciation and cost you if you plan to resell your vehicle in the future. Even using public transport, riding or walking can cost you significant time during your week that could be better spent with your children.
Don’t forget that even if you employ an in home baby sitter or nanny, they may need a vehicle or transport of some kind to take the children to activities. Having an extra driver use your car may incur extra insurance fees which have to be factored in.
If hiring a nanny or babysitter, it’s probably unrealistic to expect them to sit at home all day with nothing to do – more importantly; you want to child to experience and interact with the world. These activities often cost money – parking, libraries, entertainment, museums, galleries can all have fees associated with them. Day care centers usually provide activities as part of their fees but occasionally there may be extra costs for materials or other classroom fees. Some day cares also offer ad-dons – special classes in gymnastics or art or provide options to teach kids other languages – at a cost.
Extra Food and Other Supplies
Feeding children is a normal part of raising them, but they may still need to have snacks or lunch provided to them when they’re in day care. A nanny or babysitter, even a family member caring for your kids at home, will likely consume some food from the house. This means you’ll have a higher grocery bill, as well as higher utilities because of the extra time people will be spending in your home.
In some cases you’ll also need to provide nappies, baby wipes and other supplies to day care centers as these are not provided. This may not cost any more than you’d normally spend, but factor it into your expenses. Other facilities may charge additional fees which could be significantly more costly than providing them yourself.
Like many schools, some day care facilities will hold special parties, charity drives or charge for field trips which place additional burdens on your wallet. And it doesn’t hurt to show your appreciation for those that care for your offspring with a little gift for the individuals or team responsible.
Loss of income
Even though your child is in care, there are circumstances where you will need to take additional time off work to look after them yourself. Facilities may be closed over the Christmas period and on public holidays. If you get penalty rates for working public holidays this can be an extra blow to your income. Similarly, you may miss opportunities to earn penalty rates on overtime work if you have to leave to collect children from care.
Under the new National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines, stay-at-home ‘exclusion periods’ for sick children have been laid out depending on their illness. Even with a doctor’s certificate, children may not be able to return to care until the period is up, meaning you may be away from work for days at a time. Even if you don’t lose income, it can wear on your employer.
It isn’t all about the expense fortunately. Many care providers have been doing an amazing job of providing a happy, stimulating environment for children to play and develop. With the new National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care, training standards for carers are being increased – a minimum of a Certificate 3 in Children’s Services is required and half of staff should have a Diploma of Children’s Services qualification as well. Centers will also have to have an early childhood educator on staff. However, once you factor in not just the upfront cost of paying for childcare, but also all the incidentals associated with care, you may reconsider using formal care services and find that it is more economical to have one parent leave the workforce to care for the children instead.
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