Rising cost of child care exceeds other expenses, puts pressure on working families

Published: February 21, 2022 9:16 AM EST
Updated: February 21, 2022 2:39 PM EST

The cost of child care has increased more than any other household expense, more than housing or groceries, and your income has not gone up with it. The necessity of day care for many working parents means many families now have to make tough decisions.

Families already feel the tension from the prices rising on most everything due to supply chain issues, corporate price hikes and inflation, but if they have to add day care services to the list of things they can’t afford, the only choice for many will be to stay home. The average cost of day care for infants is now more than in-state college tuition fees in some states.

A new report from Child Care Aware shows that the growth in child care prices exceeded the annual rate of inflation over the past two years. In 2020, the average annual cost of child care for infants hit just over $12,300. Victor Claar, an economics professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, says that while it is alarming to see that a family is not receiving subsidies of any kind and might pay something in the neighborhood of in-state tuition prices, the comparison is not completely fair.

“There’s a little of an apples and oranges phenomenon going there,” Claar said. “When you send your child to day care, they provide a lot more than, say, just education. And that’s essentially what you get with the tuition alone at a college or university if you don’t include student fees, other activity fees. If you don’t include room and board, then it’s a little bit of an unfair comparison. Also, when you pay that annual tuition for university, it’s for the academic year, it’s not for an entire calendar year. So those numbers also make the comparison a little tougher to make.”

Just like any other business, child care facilities want to offer high-quality care at the lowest prices they can manage. Due to the pandemic, however, employers have to pay more to keep staff. If they can’t make their money back by raising prices, we will certainly see some locations shut down involuntarily.

Two day care owners in a low-income area of Fort Myers say they don’t want to raise prices and make it harder for families already struggling, but with a lack of employees, a lot of them have limited options: close down or raise prices. That means some parents would need to watch their children instead of going to work.

“You do want to offer quality services, and you do have to charge for quality services,” said Trinity Evans, owner of Babyland Christian Academy, located at 2329 Union St. “But at the same time, it’s hard for us to offer quality services when that rate is going up. Because if you have to bring in quality staff to provide those services, you have to increase pay on staff as well. ”

“If you can’t work, how are you going to be able to pay your bills?” said Patricia Cochran, owner of Creative Early Steps Childcare Center, also located at 2329 Union St. “How are you going to be able to do anything when your kids need education, education is everything, you have to have education and education starts from the beginning.”

A report by the First Five Years Fund found that the rise in child care costs beyond that of expenses like housing and groceries has gone on for the past few decades.