Bringing Up Baby

Zach Blattner

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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