The decade is coming to an end, but unfortunately there is no end in sight to the rising costs of childcare in America. Since 2009, the cost of childcare in America has gone up faster than the price of other necessary goods and services.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Labor Department data shows that while overall inflation was 1.6% between 2009 and 2016, day care costs increased at an average of 2.9% annually, and it didn't stop there. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tried to get things under control, setting a childcare affordability recommendation of 7% of a family's income...but it's actually more of a wish because between 2016 and 2019 childcare costs continued to rise.
According to recent data from Child Care Aware of America, the cost of center-based infant care has continued to climb since 2016 and as we end the decade "the cost of center-based infant care ranges from 7.6% to 17.6% of median household income for married couples" and "center-based child care for infants can cost single-parent families an average of 36% of household income."
The math is simple: 36% is a lot more than the recommended 7%, and it's hurting families.
When families can't afford childcare they end up depending on a patchwork of babysitters, relatives and friends. This isn't just inconvenient for parents who are trying to plan their work schedules—it can also be detrimental to the development of children as research shows these constant disruptions in care are linked to behavior problems in children. Three-year-olds don't have the language to tell us that child care instability is hurting them, but they are telling us through their actions.
Children crave stability and working parents need reliable childcare in order to live into the expectations of their employers, but in 2019 too many families don't have stable child care and therefore find it hard to lean into work. Almost half of Americans believe children are better off if one parent stays at home with them, and statisticians believe that the rising cost of childcare in this decade is a factor in the increase in stay-at-home moms. But choosing to stay at home with the kids doesn't mean a parent is better off, financially, because in 2019 relying on a single income is nearly impossible in most American cities.
Many Americans are concerned about the falling birth rate, but the childcare crisis is a huge deterrent to would-be parents.
The cost of childcare in America has been steadily rising in recent decades, but this trend doesn't have to follow us into the next decade. What has been done isn't working and it's time to consider innovative solutions.
Perhaps stay-at-home parents should be paid for their unpaid childcare labor, suggests Elliot Haspel, the author of the new book Crawling Behind: America's Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It.
Perhaps it's time for universal childcare, as some presidential candidates have suggested.
Maybe setting a cap at $25 a day for day care, or introducing Universal pre-K, encouraging employer supports or making changes to the education system could help.
Maybe the solution is a combination of all of the above.
Maybe 2020 can be the year we get this right. We owe it to our children to try.