Cost of Childcare Continues to Climb

NEW YORK (MainStreet) —Parents are paying much more for childcare than they did 20 years ago, according to a new report released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Over the past two decades, childcare costs have nearly doubled, the report states. American families with working moms spent on average $143 per week on childcare in 2011 compared to $84 per week in 1985.

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The increase could be due to more demand because more mothers have joined the workforce since the 1980s or simply because parents are willing to spend more on childcare, according to the study’s author, Lynda Laughlin.

“The childcare market is way more complex,” she said. “Supply and demand for childcare often varies at the local level.”

The report suggests that more families are using relatives to pitch in and help, which would likely be a cheaper alternative than daycare. About 42% of families prefer to have their kids receive care from a family member while 24% chose care from a daycare center, nursery school or babysitter.

The report also showed that fewer grade school aged children are spending time unsupervised during a typical week.

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“Children with an employed single parent who spent time unsupervised dropped from 24% in 1997 to 14% in 2011,” Laughlin said.

Laughlin believes it could be because parents are getting better work schedules and there’s been an increase in available afterschool programs.

The report also suggests that more fathers have also stepped in to watch the kids.

“If he works part-time or not at all, then he is more available,” Laughlin said. “During the recent recession we saw an increase in father provided child care or they are more likely to provide care if they worked a night shift.”

Despite the larger role family members like grandparents play in childcare, the costs still add up.

Families with children under 5, on average, paid over $9,300 a year for childcare. Although the cost is an average for the nation, Laughlin assumes the cost will keep going up.

Costs for childcare vary from state to state. In 2011, the average yearly cost of full-time childcare for a 4-year-old at a daycare ranged from about $3,900 in Mississippi to nearly $11,700 in Massachusetts, according to a 2012 report from the Child Care Aware of America.

“For most families, it’s not an option for a parent to be unemployed and stay home with the kids,” said Joya Misra, professor of sociology and public policy at the University of Massachusetts. “They have to work.”

Misra thinks a better system should be put in place that offers public childcare.

“Pre-K programs like Head Start have been incredibly effective, but extremely underfunded,” she said.

Such public childcare programs would offer not only supervision, but also educational development that would ultimately be a benefit for kids early on, Misra said.

In the meantime, parents will continue to find unique ways to provide the best care possible for their children, including working different shifts or asking relatives to pitch in.

“Everybody’s working hard to come up with the best possible solution under such difficult conditions,” Misra said.

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