Why Does Daycare Cost So Much?

Good question.  Especially if you live in the United States, one of the few developed countries that does not provide any daycare benefits.  Some larger or more enlightened employers have daycare on premises and, although this may be considered a benefit, most of the cost is borne by the employees who have children enrolled there.

I have three children, all grown.  I stayed home with them for 15 years because by the time I added up daycare costs (not to mention the hassle), I found that, as an office worker, I could not make enough money to even consider daycare.  Once I returned to the work force, I had to start all over again.  Believe me, there’ s nothing like being treated like a 22 year old when you’re 45.  The dirty little secret?  You never make up for lost time, unless you somehow make a magical leap into a new managerial level career.  Good luck doing that without work experience.

You say I should have tried to work from home.  Doing what?  Secretarial services are largely unnecessary these days, it is very difficult to break into any sort of writing in this blog heavy world, and the Etsy thing, i.e. labor intensive crafts, only provide so much interest and not a lot of income.   Most work-at-home schemes are blatant ripoffs.  At the time, I was advised to provide daycare myself or, once the kids were older, work for the school system.

My daughter and her husband are now the proud parents of twins.  I once counseled my daughter not to leave the workforce should she have children.  She would do better to work part-time and/or subsidize her own job than to stay home.  She now works part-time and depends on a network of relatives (including me) for her daycare needs.

My daughter avoided daycare but most parents are stuck with it.  Why does it cost so much?  According to Forbes, a stand alone daycare requires at least 80 children to get off the ground.  The provider will have to take over and probably renovate a facility, which will cost at least $30K, although I figure in my area it would cost more like $70K.  Equipment (which must be new and up to stringent safety standards) will cost between $300 and $400 per child.  That would be bare bones equipment, by the way.

According to Forbes, the biggest daycare line item is employees, i.e. payroll.  In my area, stuffed with highly educated people who struggle to maintain a middle class lifestyle (the rich don’t bother with daycare, they use nannies), daycare workers get minimum wage; that’s $7.24 an hour. (To put this in perspective, grocery store clerks around here start at $8.25 an hour.)  You don’t need any special qualifications to be a daycare employee, other than passing a background check and being relatively reliable.  For full-time work, that would get you, before taxes, about $20,800.00 per year.  The U.S. federal poverty level for a three person household is about $20K per year.  Most women (there are almost no men) who work in daycare are therefore working at poverty level. If the worker is lucky enough to not be supporting anyone but herself, she’ll be making gobs of money, as the federal poverty level for a single person is only about $12K a year.  Good luck finding a place to live.

In short, people with barely a high school education who are poorly trained both by the local educational system and the daycare provider, are not going to provide optimum care for children.  They can barely take care of themselves.

How much does daycare cost?  Usually about $1000 to $1500 per child per month.  My daughter’s twins would cost her $2000 per month, optimally.  That does not include extra clothing and diapers (all non-potty trained children must have their own supply of diapers) and extra money for food.  If your child is on formula or breastmilk, that must be provided as well, properly bottled and labeled.  If you child is sick, he/she cannot come to daycare that day.

Daycare centers in my area only run when the schools are open, with an exception for summer holidays, when the prices rise.  Thus, if the schools are not open, daycare is closed as well.  This includes teacher workdays, spring break, winter break and other assorted days off.  To get an idea how many days the schools are closed, go to your local elementary school website and look at the calendar.  You’ll be amazed how many days children do not attend school.

Additionally, if there is a behavioral problem, as often happens with older children, you will be told you must pick up your child immediately and the daycare may suspend your privileges.  This would include children with social skill problems (autism), developmentally delayed children or just the average kid having a bad day.

Also, daycare centers will charge large sums of money (say $50) for every minute you are late picking up your child in the afternoon.  This is why parents prefer daycare facilities near where they work and not where they live.  Once the children get to school age, however, this can become a problem because before and after school care does this as well.  If you live far from where you work you should keep this in mind.

Let’s look at this from the consumers’ point of view.  You pay say, $2,100.00 per month for twins, about $1,100.00 for a single child.  The caregivers are people with barely a high school education who live, most likely, in poverty.  They would make better money at the local grocery store.  You must provide all changes of clothes, diapers, formula/breast milk and food or, for older children, pay for food the daycare provides, which you can bet will be the cheapest it can get away with.

Be warned. Daycare centers are cesspools.  The children are sick all the time, sicknesses they bring home; therefore, you will be sick all the time.  I worked with a woman who had a six month old enrolled in on-site daycare; she had pneumonia twice along with a constant case of bronchitis, in addition to a couple of bouts with a very bad gastrointestinal bug.  When she finally quit, she had been sick for over a year.

The District of Columbia, in an effort to improve its abysmal daycare, has begun an initiative to require daycare workers to have an associates’ degree.  People currently employed in daycare are now required to be working on such a degree or face being fired.  That’s all fine and dandy, but once they get that associates’ degree, they’re outta there. The District, of course, will not reimburse said workers for getting the required degrees.  So, the next crop of minimum wage workers will come along and do the same.

Ivanka Trump, who assuredly employs a nanny, or perhaps more than one, is said to be bending the President’s ear on women’s issues in the workforce, one of which is daycare.  So far I don’t see much improvement, but then I’m not hopeful.  Looking after children is not remunerative work.  To the American business world, glaring at that bottom line, children are just a bother, unless they’re their own children, in which case they are God’s gift.  The only time the business world likes children is when it markets to children.

As a society, Americans do not value children.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the way we treat them.  We put them in daycare centers to be cared for by those who, for all intents and purposes, have very little education and make less money than the wait staff at McDonalds.  We have the audacity to charge an arm and a leg for the service.  We put them in overcrowded schools we refuse to fully fund, so much so that teachers give out lists at the beginning of every school year that include school supplies to be pooled for the use of the entire class. We make families pay for extra curricular activities, particularly those that do not involve some sort of sport;  even then many sports are fully supported by harried, volunteer parents.  We plant children in front of TV sets, computers, phones and gaming consoles, leave them there and wonder why they won’t talk to us.  We require a college level education to be qualified to do just about anything but make it so difficult to attain, both educationally and materially, that many young people drop out or end up with crushing debt at the beginning of their working life.

Of course, they can always become daycare workers.

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