How the Costs of Child Care Have Increased Over the Course of the Pandemic

Beautiful Hispanic female daycare teacher leans on table and helps cute blonde toddler girl with school project.
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The COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down for millions of Americans, including parents who rely on child care. In many cases, day care centers temporarily closed — or parents didn’t feel comfortable sending their children — while employers shut offices down and had employees work from home.

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Thanks to COVID-19 vaccines, day care centers have reopened. However, many have raised their rates, making necessary child care difficult to afford.

The vast majority — 85% — of parents are spending 10% or more of their household income on child care, compared with 72% in 2020, according to the 2021 Cost of Care Survey. Many families with multiple children are now in a position to hire a nanny, as doing so costs only $14 more per week than having two kids in day care.

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“In the U.S., child care costs have been rising over the past 25 years,” said Dr. Tina Marshall-Bradley, academic coordinator for Walden University’s MS in Education program. “This industry has been complicated by disparity in the quality of care offered, the region of the country and lack of sufficient government support.”

She said the high costs of child care became even more obvious during the pandemic when many parents hit pause on this expense because their children were home with them.

During the pandemic, the increased costs of child care became very apparent as many young families who worked remotely and did not need to pay for child care were able to save enough money to buy houses,” she said. “With adults returning to the office, the added burden of child care costs will strain family budgets once again.”

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Unfortunately, this isn’t something new, she said.

“Child care costs have consistently outpaced salary increases for most workers,” she said.

Referencing a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services factsheet that included data from 2017, she noted that even in states that supplement child care, support has been falling short for a while now, with some areas reporting that around only 1 in 7 eligible families are receiving child care assistance.

Of course, many families have more than one kid who needs child care, which drives costs up even further.

Families with multiple kids are significantly burdened with the rising costs of child care and lack of quality options,” Marshall-Bradley said.

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Citing 2018 data from the Center for American Progress, Marshall-Bradley noted that putting an infant in a U.S. child care center costs an average of $1,230 per month or almost $15,000 annually.

“The cost and access to quality child care varies greatly across the country,” she said. “Child care is more expensive on the East and West Coasts than it is in the southern and midwestern regions of the country.”

To illustrate this point, she referenced a model developed by the Economic Policy Institute and noted that Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and California have the highest infant care costs in the nation, at $2,202 per month, $1,743 per month and $1,412 per month, respectively.

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Evan Hock, co-founder of MakeMyMove, believes cost disparities like this are inspiring parents across the country to seek out more affordable places to live.

“A recent survey commissioned by MakeMyMove found that 36% of parents say they’re likely to relocate in the next 18 months while working remotely — versus only 23% of those without children,” he said. “We think this is the case because families are often in search of a lower cost of living, because they frequently have more expenses than families who do not have children.”

Only time will tell how parents cope with the higher costs of child care in a post-pandemic world. Some could be forced to quit their jobs, while others might have to take on a side gig to afford the extra expenses.

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Of course, making changes to their working arrangements due to the pandemic is nothing new for parents. Nearly half — 40% — were forced to make pandemic-related career adjustments to care for their children, according to a survey conducted by FlexJobs. Specifically, 25% voluntarily reduced their hours and 15% quit their jobs.

Clearly, something needs to be done to make quality child care more affordable. Parents shouldn’t have to endure a major financial burden — or feel forced to give up their careers — because sky-high child care expenses make this necessary service unattainable.

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Last updated: Aug. 5, 2021


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