why childcare is expensive in the US

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Child care expenses are different from state to state, even county to county. Overall, the price of child care has roughly tripled since 1990, which is higher than the overall rate of inflation. Today, it’s a multibillion-dollar industry. And it feels like almost everyone is fighting to keep up. The cost of child care is usually paid for by a combination of the government, parents, and child care providers. In other nations like Denmark and Sweden, the government provides most of the bill. In the U.S., the cost falls mostly on parents and providers. 

The problem of child care in America has been around since the beginning of America itself. Native Americans carried their children in woven slings, colonial women put them in holding stools to keep them from falling into fireplaces. And African-American mothers sang white babies to rest while their children supported themselves. In the 19th century, the answer to who looked after your children usually came down to how much money you had. in the working class where mothers had to work, there was nowhere to keep the kids, they would sometimes join their mothers at work, often in dangerous situations at mines, cotton mills, factories, and farms.

A 2011 Census study found that common families were paying seven percent of their income on child care. The Department of Health and Human Services used that data to promote people not to spend more than that. But if you look at how things work out across the country today, there’s not a single state where the cost of giving a toddler to a licensed child care center averages out to meet that guidance. For separated parents, it’s even worse, creeping up to 65 percent of their central income depending on where they live. 

Today there are three main types of child care centers. Non-profit like businesses run by the YMCA, for-profits like Bright Horizons, and government-run like Head Start or Pre-K. All of this doesn’t even get into the market of personal caregivers like nannies and au pairs.  Most of the programs in the U.S. are privatized and those programs serve a lot of kids.  

Authorized child care classrooms require a specific ratio of kids to teachers. In New York, it’s one teacher for every four babies with a maximum group size of eight. As the kids get a little older, the class sizes get larger. The central pay for child care workers in the U.S. in 2018 was $23,000 a year or $11.17 an hour. Even with these lower salaries, according to childcare center owners, some years, they barely break even. 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JAN. 31: Alexis Gasperecz brushes the hair of her son, King, 3, as her 11-month-old daughter sits in her high chair, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in San Francisco, Calif. Gasperecz lives during the week at her in-law’s apartment where she and their father get help with childcare as she works a graveyard shift. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Some of those families who can’t get authorized care may turn to unlicensed centers that are typically cheaper but aren’t always safe. In some circumstances, it’s life or death. And for many Americans, the possibility of having a child means you have to decide whether or not it’s worth it to go back to work. Because for parents it is their responsibility to provide their children with the best childhood experience as possible.

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