Childcare is so expensive that families are spending a quarter of their income on it

April 19, 2023, 6:06 PM UTC
Parents struggle amid unstable childcare and rising costs.
RainStar/Getty Images

President Joe Biden may be issuing executive orders to blunt the cost of childcare for American families, but for those in the thick of it, the costs not only hit hard, they keep rising.

President Biden signed an executive order on Tuesday directing a wide range of federal agencies—from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Defense—to identify and implement ways to cut childcare costs and make services more accessible. The move builds on directives implemented by the administration earlier this year that mandated chip manufacturers provide childcare in order to get access to the $39 billion in funding. 

While many in the childcare community applauded the move, it’s a far cry from earlier promises to help cover childcare for low-income Americans and fund universal preschool programs nationwide.

And for families struggling right now, the directives may fall short. Childcare costs are already prohibitively expensive for families—averaging around $10,600 per child, per year. Yet more than a third of parents (37%) have seen their childcare costs continue to jump over the past year, according to the 2023 New York Life Wealth Watch survey. The report found that among parents who pay for childcare, they spend about 26% of their household income on this expense. 

“High-cost childcare—or a lack of affordable childcare—can be disruptive to families’ long-term financial security, and increases in costs due to inflation can add up,” Suzanne Schmitt, head of financial wellness at New York Life, tells Fortune. “Childcare hinges on workplace and societal support, as the childcare sector has faced significant challenges, which has had a downstream effect on parents.”

Childcare expenses hit families hard

For New York City–based mother Lauren Accardo, childcare expenses take about $300 out of the budget per week—and that’s just for part-time childcare for her 18-month-old son. To help keep day-care costs down, Accardo and her husband juggle their time, working hybrid schedules at their day jobs as executive assistants, then fitting in their second careers as a romance novelist and stand-up comedian, respectively, where they can. 

But the roughly $1,200 a month expense on even part-time day care is a heavy burden. “Day care has completely disrupted our lives financially,” Accardo says. And it’s really not a long-term solution, Accardo admits, saying they’ve hit a point where they’re seriously considering full-time care. 

“It’s just not tenable,” Accardo says. “You’re on a conference call, and you have to apologize because either your coworkers are hearing Elmo in the background or they’re hearing your kid scream. And as understanding as people are, you’re still at work, you’re still trying to get a full eight-hour day in,” she says. 

But full-time day care means Accardo and her husband will need to reconfigure their budget again. “It’s been a constant struggle,” she says.

About a third (34%) of parents who are facing higher childcare costs have been forced to cut back on other household expenses to make their budgets work, while 23% say, like Accardo, they’re leveraging a hybrid or remote work model, according to the New York Life research. Over half of parents (59%) report their financial strategy changed in the past year compared with just 41% of nonparents.

Of course, utilizing day care can also be a struggle during a time when childhood illnesses feel more frequent. If Accardo’s son is sick, that means she needs to keep him home. Then it becomes a conversation of who watches him, who stays out of work. 

“My husband is a stand-up comic, where he is sometimes on the road. I’ve had situations where the baby’s sick and can’t go to day care, my husband’s out of town, and I am expected to work a full day. So I either have to take sick time myself or try and find a friend to come over and watch him,” Accardo says. 

The lack of affordable, stable childcare takes a toll—not only on parents’ budgets, but also on their careers. “It’s partially finances, and it’s partially time, but with more opportunities for affordable childcare I could spend more time on my passion projects,” Accardo says.

If full-time childcare was an affordable option, Accardo says she might have more time to herself to really push her career forward.

Read More

InflationReal EstateInvestingCompensationCareersStudent Loans and Debt