There’s a lot of talk today about the negative impacts of traditional gender roles on both women and men alike. One common topic that often goes missing from the overall conversation, though, is the cost of childcare.
Childcare before primary school can be an intense topic for many parents. The prices are often outrageous, even though the teachers and aids these schools are often barely being paid above minimum wage.
In many cases, childcare can even become entirely unaffordable as soon as a parent has to place more than one child into it. For parents of multiples or kids close in age, childcare has to potential to quickly add up to become an insurmountable cost.
In some areas, the cost of daycare or preschool can equate to more than sending an older child to college, and it’s not a new phenomenon. The cost of childcare has climbed steadily since the mid-1980s.
The Costs of Childcare
With childcare being such an astronomical figure, it makes sense that there would be some programs in place to help. Some families are incredibly lucky to have family and friends around that can help offset the costs. But those people who have that support network are few and far between and, for the most part, tend to be white.
Free, low-cost and reimbursed childcare is available. However, like all other forms of welfare in the US, they are applicable only to those at or below the poverty line and come with a plethora of requirements, depending on the state. They also face cuts with the current administration.
There’s another issue here. You don’t have to be below the poverty line to struggle with childcare costs. A family making $45,000/year should be in a pretty decent position. But if they have two kids in daycare, that can easily take up to a third of their income, dropping them down to around $30,000/year instead. If you also spend about that on rent, then you’re left with roughly $15,000 to buy food, pay utilities, make car payments, cover insurance and doctor’s visits, purchase clothes and all the other odds and ends people need to survive.
Who Gives It Up?
It’s pretty clear that being above the poverty line doesn’t necessarily mean you can live easily. When childcare is eating up a third of your family’s combined income, many people come to the same conclusion. They decide they have to do something to eliminate that cost. The result is often that one of the parents stays home with the kids until they’re old enough to go to public school.
The majority of the time, that person ends up being the mom. Although we are living in a more progressive America than ever when it comes to eliminating gender roles, we still haven’t totally shed the assumption that the mother has an obligation to stay home with the kids.
This falls back to a few issues. Women, overall, still tend to make less money than men. Yet, they’re frequently expected to take on the majority of the child-rearing and household duties, even if they do work full-time. It gets harder for the woman to continue working if a male partner makes more money in a heterosexual relationship. Either way, no matter how or why the decision is made, it’s often the woman who leaves her position and stays home.
Childcare and Single Mothers
Those mothers that do decide to stay home may suddenly find themselves trapped. With no money of their own and sometimes years of unemployment, getting a new job can be difficult, and the internal awareness that you’re financially dependent on a partner can take more of an emotional toll than many realize.
This gets especially dangerous and tricky in situations where a woman may be tempted to stay in an abusive relationship because she simply can’t afford to leave. This applies to practically any relationship, of course, but stay-at-home-moms face this challenge to a higher degree since childcare is so expensive.
Yes, childcare is expensive, and so is birth. The healthcare industry in the US is abysmal, and the average cost of an uncomplicated, vaginal delivery is over $12,000 before insurance. If that expense is either upcoming or still hanging around after the fact, it can be even more daunting to consider leaving a relationship.
If a woman seeks a divorce, it’s easy to guess how it will go. Most people can recognize that women are more often awarded primary custody of children in a divorce, a concept that goes back to patriarchal roots. This is unfair to devoted fathers, of course, but it can also be unfair to women who now find themselves operating alone as single moms thanks to society’s outdated views on this issue.
Of course, the mom often has the benefit of child support. However, this money is counted as income. A single mom with her first job in a few years might get pushed over the income limit for government assistance by getting an extra $200/month in child support. Unfortunately, there are very few preschools, even unlicensed ones, that cost that little.
In fact, the cheapest childcare in the nation can be found in South Carolina, at $388/month. For a minimum wage worker, that’s over 100% of their income at a full-time job. You would think that this would encourage lawmakers to make some changes, but so far, it hasn’t been high on the list.
Women’s Issues Are Everyone’s Issues
A big piece of this issue is that women’s issues aren’t seen as everyone’s issues even though they do, indeed, impact everyone. And the reality is that women often take on the burden of the cost of childcare in ways that don’t even necessarily have to come down to numbers to have huge impacts. This burden often manifests itself in mental health issues, bad relationships, lost security and a lower standard of living.
We can’t afford to keep moving in this direction. It’s undoubtedly reducing our status as a first world country. But more importantly, our children aren’t going to grow up with all the same opportunities that were once within reach, and that’s a true disservice to America’s youth.
Only Slightly Biased