WHY CHILD CARE IS "SO EXPENSIVE"
I’ve worked closely with children and families in my home-based preschool for 20 years, now. It started as a child care program for all ages that ran from 8am until 11pm to serve as many families in need as possible. I eventually moved on to an 11 hour workday, instead. I charged $1 - $3 per hour for years, purely to be affordable. And then I found myself overworked and raising my own children in poverty. How did I spend 15 years pouring every bit of me (and more) into caring for the children of my community just to find myself unable to afford to buy a house, lacking any emergency savings, unable to afford healthcare, savings for retirement, etc.?
Well, it’s in part due to the very common sentiment from parents that I’ve encountered over and over when they don’t know what I do for a living: “How are we supposed to afford that??”
I’m sure that parents don’t mean to insult the work that we teachers/care providers do for their families by raising their children while they’re at work. I’m sure the “how can child care be so expensive” mentality is usually based in not understanding the many hidden costs of running a home-based child care program.
So, I want to help break this down, in the hopes that it will shed a lot of light on why child care costs what it does. Parents deserve to know that their hard-earned money is well-spent.
I now charge $1025 per month for high quality, Mon-Fri, full-time, preschool-style child care. (Which is less than what the state pays programs at my level of licensing.)
That breaks down to about $5 per hour.
But because I’m self-employed, I pay 15% more into taxes than people with “normal” jobs. I have to save 30% of my income (far more when I have an employee, but we’ll get to that) up to $40k; any income above $40k and I have to save almost 40% of that income for taxes. So, let’s say I have to pay an average of 35% of my income to taxes: that $5 you and your spouse pay me becomes only $3.25ish per hour, toward my livelihood…
BUT here are some of the other hidden costs of being a child care provider that all come out of that $3.25 per hour:
There are so many hidden costs that even the most well-intentioned families just aren’t aware of, if they’ve never spent time in this profession.
I need to add that while it’s not a financial cost to me, necessarily, there’s another level of devotion to this work that’s required by most, if not all, child care providers: my home is taken over completely by my work. My entire home is set up as a preschool for the 6 – 8 children that I care for all day, every day. I never leave work: if I’m at home, I’m still at work. On my weekends, I’m thinking about the coming week’s curriculum, I’m buying groceries for the children in my program, I’m setting up new play activities or equipment, I’m washing their nap-time bedding (we clean it weekly), I’m reading books to continue furthering my knowledge and inspiration for teaching… and the list goes on and on.
Good child care providers and teachers give every inch of ourselves, every fiber of our beings to providing your child with the best start, the best foundation upon which they build the rest of their lives, their best sense of self, their best early socio-emotional development with others. We give the very best we have to offer purely so you have the sense of safety and freedom needed leave your child in the hands of someone else, to go to work and make ends meet for your beloved family.
Yes, it’s worth $5 an hour.
If you’re a single parent or a very low-income married couple (Oregon’s minimum wage is currently $12.75 per hour), the state is here to help with that. The ERDC program through the Department of Human Services expanded their income limits to help more families, at the onset of the pandemic. And many bigger centers can afford to offer scholarships. If you truly can’t afford child care, there is assistance available.
I promise you we are in this field because we LOVE, VALUE, RESPECT, and want the very best for your children! We child care providers are not walking around wealthy at the expense of hard-working parents.
If you ever genuinely feel this is the case, PLEASE talk to your child care provider. Ask them what their work is like – if they trust you enough to open up about it, that is; many providers keep the frustrations of this work to themselves to avoid losing families who wouldn’t understand. Spend a day helping out and witnessing the work for yourself. There’s a huge turnover rate (and burnout rate) in this field because it’s an especially over-worked, underpaid, under-thanked job where we give, give, give our hearts ALL. DAY. LONG.
And if that’s not enough… I suggest asking yourself if you really want your child spending the majority of their time with someone who cares for them, supports them, protects them, and role models for them, but who can’t afford a decent lifestyle for themselves because of the work that they do, who has to choose between health care and putting food on their table, who is exhausted because they work themselves to the bone at poverty levels to be “affordable.”
Instead, please imagine your children cared for by someone who is thriving, who can afford to be their healthiest and happiest, who has energy and joy and well-being to share, whose program doesn’t fall apart with every life challenge that rolls in because they are well-supported instead of hanging on by a thread. Imagine your child’s full-time child care provider and teacher feeling valued and cherished, like they deserve. Imagine the benefit of that to your baby who is looking up to this person all day, every day.
Your child deserves to grow up in a healthy, happy, stable environment.
Yes. We are worth it.
If you'd like to read my heartfelt and experienced thoughts and guidance on parenting and teaching young children, please find my book on raising children here - WHOLESOME PARENTING: Paving a Brighter and Kinder Future with Our Children.
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