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Bringing Up Baby

Zach Blattner, 12:57 am ET

EVER SINCE OUR OLDEST was born three years ago, my wife and I have had to confront the cold reality of paying for childcare. We visited four different daycare providers in the Boston area. None was below $2,300 a month. The gap between what we saw as the best and the worst was only $200.

Our monthly childcare outlay—now covering two kids following the birth of our second child last October—is close to $5,000. On top of that, of course, we have formula, diapers, clothes and more.

The reason for high daycare costs isn’t salaries. By most accounts, daycare workers are underpaid. Rather, a major reason is the need for a low child-teacher ratio, which you’ll realize is essential if you’ve spent any time around two-year-olds.

We live in Cambridge, where rents have soared, and yet we pay significantly less per month for our three-bedroom condo than we pay for childcare. We’ve been actively looking to buy a place over the past few years, and we have a down payment set aside that at one time would have been considered adequate.

But with today’s hyper-competitive real estate market, we need to pony up more upfront cash if we’re to buy a home—but that cash has instead been devoured by childcare. I love my kids and I’d rather have them than the $70,000 to $100,000 of additional down payment that we might have socked away over three childless years. Still, when I step back and calculate what childcare has cost us, the sum is staggering.

Perhaps more jarring is that my wife and I are both professionally successful, albeit in the nonprofit education world. I have to remind myself that others are in a far more difficult bind, having to decide whether working makes sense given the cost of childcare. After all, our annual daycare costs are similar to the median U.S. household income. Last fall, I started getting really excited about the prospect of universal pre-K as I imagined what it would mean for our family and, more altruistically, how it might enable society at large to be more productive.

Many parents today face the extreme costs of childcare during the early years and soaring college costs on the backend. If you’re wondering why young adults don’t seem to be in a big hurry to have kids, here’s a hint: Maybe it has something to do with money.

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K LM
K LM
1 month ago

I left my job to stay home with my kids when my husband was transferred to a new city. I also lived in Mass. The amount left from my paycheck, the long commute, the long hours, the stress from being gone from the house (cooking/cleaning, etc), and rushing to/from daycare became too much. I stayed home with the kids for ten years. I went back when they were in middle/high school and it was tough making a re-entry into the working world. Housing was expensive at that time, but comparatively not what it is right now. You and your wife are in a tough situation with no easy answers. I wish you and your family the best and hope things are able to work out for you.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
1 month ago

I am currently reading “Secrets of the Sprakkar” by Eliza Reid, Iceland’s First Lady. She is a Canadian immigrant who had four children, spaced two years apart, after moving to Iceland. She writes: “It would barely have been feasible, and not even desirable, were it not for the generous parental leave benefits to which Gudni and I were both entitled, even as freelancers, and for heavily subsidized child care from the time the parental leave expired.” And: “Had I stayed in Canada, I doubt I would have been so prolific in offspring. But in Iceland, somehow, it just seemed so easy to have a child – and then another, and another, and another.”

Those concerned that US women are having fewer children (although personally I think the world is over-populated) should consider that concrete assistance will work a whole lot better than empty exhortations.

Sharon Edwards
Sharon Edwards
1 month ago

US ideology assumes that child care is a private family matter — and thus privately funded. We live in a country who’s economy is based on two incomes and one stay-at-home parent. Let’s not even consider how the pandemic impacted childcare/education. The US spends less on families and children than other advanced countries, ranking 30th out of 33. One in six children live in poverty.

I have always believed in smaller government/less spending/lower taxes. Now I ask the question – and what if we don’t? What if we don’t make it easy for both parents to work outside the home? What if we don’t provide our children with healthy living – food/shelter/healthcare, etc. What if we don’t step up and support our families?

I would also point out that – generally speaking (as the mother of a single father and granddaughter of a single father) – Mothers continue to remain the primary responsible party where children are concerned. What happens when we don’t support women?

Thomas Taylor
Thomas Taylor
1 month ago
Reply to  Sharon Edwards

Wow – I am surprised the US ranks that high. I figured we would be dead last. I’ve always believed in smaller government/less spending/lower taxes as well but that genie has been out of the bottle for quite some time now. Both parties in Congress spend way too much money, they just like to spend it in different ways. Our leaders cannot see past an election cycle, so how can we expect them to understand the logic of spending money today for a payoff that is years or perhaps decades in the future. I have 4 sisters who have at some point and time all been single mothers and I’ve seen the struggles first hand. I don’t personally know each and every representative across the US, but I doubt very many of them have experienced poverty or difficulty paying for child care.

Sharon Edwards
Sharon Edwards
1 month ago
Reply to  Thomas Taylor

Regarding our representatives being tuned into these concerned, here is an interesting article.

Cammer Michael
Cammer Michael
1 month ago

This may have serious impact on the types of careers people pursue. Research science typically involves a three to six year stint as a postdoctoral fellow after getting the PhD. From 1996 to 2000 my partner’s entire pay as a postdoc went to childcare. (How she was paid and the tax consequences is a different story.) Without my higher income as junior faculty and help from family, I don’t see how we could have done this. A single parent definitely couldn’t. Well, some do, with great hardship such as forgoing retirement saving. I just saw a letter from students and postdocs to the administration where I work now complaining of precisely the same issue. This has impact on whether people choose to devote their efforts to science and technology or look elsewhere. This is about highly trained and skilled, or highly intelligent people with great potential to advance technology, looking elsewhere for money. This may even be a national security concern.

Mike Wyant
Mike Wyant
1 month ago

Have you looked at hiring an au pair? We had au pairs for 3 years when our 3 boys were little. Although this was almost 30 years ago, it cost us less than fulltime daycare for 3 kids. The key is finding good ones of course.

R Quinn
R Quinn
1 month ago

Keep in mind this comment is from a 78 year old.

How the world has changed. My mother was our daycare and night care and all care. We were her career. My wife was our four children’s daycare.

In both cases living standards were based on one income.

I guess we did with less back then because of it.

Today, for many, two incomes is a necessity. For others a career takes precedence.

That’s just how we have evolved as a society. I’m thinking what childcare costs is only relevant because of the tradeoffs society has made.

Over the decades two incomes allowed a higher standard of living, more stuff, two cars, bigger houses – with fewer people in them. The demand created higher prices and the ability to pay for all that was based on two incomes. Now families are trapped, few have a choice because of income level or the desired standard of living.

Perhaps there are positives to all this, but they escape me. I know, I’m old and I just don’t get it. Spending $60,000 for a babysitter is beyond my comprehension.

As far as the other child raising expenses go, no surprise, right?

Try raising four children collectively five years apart on one income and then envision what that means when the first is off to college. 🤑

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
1 month ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I am a mid-70s woman, and I am beyond grateful that I had the choice not to be a SAHM. I am indebted to the women’s movement for my vote, my credit card, my (paid-off) mortgage, the right to own property in my own name while married, my interesting career and my ability to support myself in comfort when necessary.

I suspect that the people able to support a family in comfort on one salary are a minority, and have always been a minority. That ability is likely restricted to specific classes at specific times, and probably races too, in this country. The failure to provide free child care no doubt springs from the same impulses as the failure to provide free tertiary education, and free universal health care, unlike other industrialized countries. I don’t know whether this is the result of the toxic cult of individualism, or a desire not to be taxed to help the “other”.

Last edited 1 month ago by mytimetotravel
DrLefty
DrLefty
1 month ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Well…of course there are positives to women being in the workforce. Not every woman is cut out to be a stay-at-home mom, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The “positive” of childcare is that both parents can pursue their dreams and goals outside the home. Also so that women are prepared to support themselves and their children if something happens to the male sole provider. Not to mention setting a positive example for children that women can work in professions just as well as men can, while men shoulder their half of the load at home, too.

If money spent on childcare is the only variable, then you have a point, I guess. But it isn’t the only factor to consider. I’m not trying to start a “mothers should stay home with young children” argument. Just presenting the other perspective as someone who both raised kids (two, not four, I knew my limits) and built a career.

Ormode
Ormode
1 month ago
Reply to  R Quinn

The biggest problem is probably not extravagant living, but medical costs and demographics. In the 50s, the demographic profile was very different, with about 20 workers for every retiree, and there was no Medicare and Medicaid. Few people realize that the states pay half the cost of Medicaid,
so a lot of every state’s budget goes to doctors and hospitals.

R Quinn
R Quinn
1 month ago
Reply to  Ormode

I don’t think I implied extravagant living, but given the average home has increased in size by 1,000 sf while the family size has dropped since the mid 20th century, I think that’s an indication Americans want more than they need.

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