Child Care Is So Expensive I Can't Afford To Work

(Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash)
(Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash)

Even if Ivanka Trump and Marco Rubio do manage to fix parental leave (they won’t), there’s still one big elephant in the room: the cost of childcare.

I was offered my dream job recently. In my preferred field. At an organization with a strong mission that I support. Amazing benefits and, with personal days, more than four weeks of vacation every year. A bit farther away from home than I would have liked, especially in Boston traffic, but that was something I could have lived with.

I turned it down.

By way of explanation, I should start by saying I have three kids, including one just entering preschool.

Turning down the job wasn’t my first instinct. In fact, I initially accepted it, and quickly I emailed our preschool administrator to tell her we needed full-time care.

Then I got the preschool bill.

The numbers didn’t add up. Or, rather, they did -- to one big number that was more than we could afford.

Then I called and said I couldn’t accept the job after all.

The entire process wasn’t quite as quick or easy as that. After receiving the preschool bill, my husband and I spent an entire weekend discussing our expenses. How much did we pay for after-school care for our older two children? For car payments? For kid activities? Groceries? Transportation? Our absolutely necessary ice cream fund?

The numbers didn’t add up. Or, rather, they did — to one big number that was more than we could afford. And the only place we could cut expenses was to reduce the number of days our youngest would spend in preschool — so I called to turn down the job.

People often lament how expensive college is going to be by the time their kids attend. But I am not actually that nervous about paying for college — we are already saving for it. Instead, since our first child was born, I have been more concerned about how we are going to pay for preschool.

Massachusetts has the second highest childcare costs in the U.S. -- only Washington, D.C., is costlier. As of 2016, a Massachusetts family could expect to pay on average $17,062 per year for preschool. Per child. A more recent study found that the average childcare cost per family in Massachusetts was $29,426 annually.

That is more than a person making minimum wage will earn in a year. That is more than college tuition for an in-state four-year public college. That is even more than the cost of a house in some parts of the U.S.

And those numbers account for all of Massachusetts. In the suburbs right outside of Boston, where I live, the costs are sometimes even higher.

On average, Americans spend just over 10 percent of their income on childcare for children under 5. Low-income families spend an even higher proportion -- more than 50 percent in some cases.

It’s too much.

In 2017, the fertility rate hit 1.76, a historic low. At first researchers thought the fertility rate was dropping due to the recession. But even as the economy recovered, the fertility rate continued to fall. Wondering why, The New York Times questioned more than 1,800 adults between the ages of 20 to 45.

Childcare is too expensive. And families with young children have limited options.

The answer was not exactly shocking. Anyone immersed in the world of children and the continually heaping pile of bills that accompanies them would have said the same thing these people did: Childcare is too expensive. And families with young children have limited options. One parent can stay home (if it is a two-parent household), a family member can watch the children (if one lives nearby and has the time), or parents can find paid childcare.

I count myself as lucky. I had a choice — a lot of people wouldn’t have. Though I turned down what could have been a wonderful job, I still have a great part-time position that is flexible, close to home, pays decently and that I enjoy. The downside: It isn’t permanent, so I have no job security.

This week I told my oldest child that when school starts again in September, for the first time in more than five years I will have Fridays off. His face broke into a giant, toothy smile as he began to excitedly make plans for our Friday afternoons. Those Friday mornings, I will have one-on-one time with his little sister.

I still find myself wondering, though, if not taking that job was the right choice.

For my career? Maybe not. But for our family? Definitely.


Headshot of Rebecca Linke

Rebecca Linke Cognoscenti contributor
Rebecca Linke has worked as an editor, a writer, a social media specialist and a web content manager.



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