Help! After-School Programs and Child Care Cost Too Much
There’s a child care crisis in America—and it’s causing some parents to leave their jobs. The cost of raising a child tops $233,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The most recent USDA report from 2015 which looks at the Expenditures of Children on Families found that child care and education costs are the third biggest expense on American working families after housing and food costs.
In the years since this report came out, the costs associated with child care and after-school programs have continued to increase and outpaced the price of housing and food in many areas. Between rising daycare costs and the price tag of afterschool programs, you may wonder how you can handle these expenses.
If you’re on the cusp of quitting your job just to save on daycare costs or signing your kid up for sports or extra-curriculars this year isn’t in the budget, you’re not alone.
Here is our advice for parents to deal with the rising costs of child care, afterschool care, and sports programs this school year.
Related: What is the True Cost of Having a Baby in America?
What is the Average Cost of Childcare?
The answer to this care question depends on where you live. The price of child care programs and issues such as staffing shortages vary by region. While your state’s or city’s child care providers may charge what seems like outrageous fees, your SIL who lives across the country could pay substantially less in care expenses.
To better understand the regional differences, and the overwhelmingly high daycare costs many parents face, take a look at Child Care Aware of America’s 2020 report on the care supply, affordability, and overall program quality. According to Child Care Aware’s data, the cost of care in 2020 was higher than the cost of housing, food, transportation, college tuition, and health care!
In the Midwest, Northeast, and Southern regions of the United States, child care costs exceeded housing costs by an average of $3,443 in the Midwest region and by $4,146 annually in the Northeast.
The least affordable areas have the highest provider costs compared to overall family income. In other words, it’s not always that the programs in one area charge more than another. Instead, the average family income doesn’t offset the amount child care providers expect parents to pay. This can make it almost impossible for lower-income families in many states to afford the cost of a quality daycare center.
Along with regional differences, the cost of care also varies by type of care and the age of the child. Infant care is often more expensive for working families than daycare for preschoolers or before and after school programs for elementary-aged children. This has to do with the level of supervision required to care for an infant, the equipment needed (such as cribs and feeding chairs), and the staff-to-child ratio necessary.
The Child Care Aware stats show that California was the least affordable state for center-based infant daycare, with the average two-parent family spending over 16 percent of their annual income on the cost of care. Washington is the least affordable state for family child care home infant care. Parents in this state spend over 11 percent of their annual income on this type of daycare arrangement.
And if you’re wondering whether you pay more now than a parent would have five years ago, the answer is yes. According to Child Care Aware, in 2017 the national average price was $9,397. This rose to $10,174 by 2020. Factor in the added expenses daycare centers faced over the last two-plus pandemic years of rolling forced closures, low staff levels, quarantines, and the price of extra cleaning supplies to get a better picture of how and why these costs are on the rise.
What Happens If You Can't Afford Daycare?
If you’re priced out of the child care market, you may wonder what other options are available. Without affordable, quality full-time or even part-time child care options in your area, you might feel like it doesn’t make sense to stay in your current job. But does this mean your only choice is to quit? And if you do quit, how will the loss of income affect your family’s overall finances?
Parents who have a spouse or partner with a decent or high-paying job could possibly afford to stay home and skip the cost of daycare. If you’re not one of these lucky moms or dads, you’ll need to find a way to pay for care without spending your entire budget on a Pre-K program. This means you will either need to find a completely new child care arrangement or start researching assistance programs.
The least expensive child care option is free daily care. A grandparent or other family member could offer to watch your kiddo at no cost. Relative-based care is a common arrangement for many American families. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2019 38 percent of children five and under who were in at least one weekly nonparental care arrangement were in relative care.
If a relative caregiver isn’t an option, you could explore paid in-home supervision. Sitters and nannies may charge less than a daycare center and may offer more consistent care. Provided your sitter or nanny is reliable, responsible, and committed to their job, you won’t need to worry (or worry as much) about finding backup care. To further cut costs, consider a full-time nanny share. This allows you to split the price of a private nanny with at least one other family.
While the lower cost of a nanny or nanny share is an ideal alternative for some families, others may not have or may not want this option. Whether you can’t find a nanny in your area or you prefer the social setting of a child development center, there are ways to offset the cost of daycare. These include government programs such as school district level funding, state financial assistance vouchers, certificates, and subsidies, Head Start and Early Head Start child care centers, and state-funded prekindergarten.
Along with government-backed programs, some private employers offer assistance through a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (or FSA). This allows you to put a set portion of your paycheck into a special account, eliminating the taxes you would otherwise pay on these earnings.
Some families may need to get creative in order to find a way to offset child care costs. If you don’t meet financial need requirements for federal or state government programs and your employer doesn’t offer an FSA option, ask your child’s daycare provider about scholarships, partnerships with nonprofit organizations or initiatives, or discounts (such as sibling or military discounts).
Is There an Income Limit for Childcare Assistance?
Does your family qualify for financial assistance? Low-income families may meet eligibility requirements for state or federal programs that supply vouchers to pick up the costs, pay centers directly, or provide daycare services.
Income limits and eligibility for government child care assistance programs vary by state. For example, families of two can make no more than $54,930 per year in the state of New York to qualify for child care assistance subsidies. A family of three in this state can make up to $69,090.
In Pennsylvania, a family of two can make up to $36,620 and a family of three must earn less than $46,060. To find more information on your state’s income limits, additional requirements, and application process, visit the U.S. Administration for Children and Families’ ChildCare.gov state resource finder here.
Like state government subsidies, federally funded Head Start programs also have income limits. The U.S. Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) notes that Head Start programs use the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (or HHS) poverty guidelines and Section 645 of the Head Start Act to decide whether a family meets the income limits for Head Start and Early Head Start. Along with these guidelines. Families who are homeless and families who currently receive public assistance may qualify for Head Start/Early Head Start.
How Expensive Are After-School Programs and Sports?
Daycare isn’t the only care-based or school-year educational expense parents face. Before and after school programs, sports, and other similar elementary school or high school extra-curricular activities also often come with a price tag that many families can’t afford. While after-school athletics may not seem necessary on the same level as a daycare, these programs have benefits galore.
Youth sports provide mental, emotional, social, and physical benefits for children of all ages. These include lower rates of anxiety and depression, stress reduction, reduced risk of suicide, lower risk of substance abuse, increased cognitive performance, reduced risk of diabetes, increased cardiovascular health, higher levels of academic achievement, and improved life skills, according to a report from the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition Science Board.
Along with these benefits, youth sports and other after-school enrichment programs provide a safe, supervised environment for children after the traditional school day ends.
Even though these programs have plenty of benefits, it’s not always possible to afford youth sports.
A survey from the Aspen Institute’s Project Play found that children from low-income families were six times more likely to quit athletic activities than other children. Project Play’s survey found that over six percent of children of families earning under $50,000 per year quit playing a sport due to the increasing expenses. This number dropped to two percent for children of families earning between $50,000 and $100,000 and one percent for those with an annual income of more than $100,000.
The exact price of youth sports and after-school extra-curricular enrichment opportunities varies by area, age, and program. Some sports require pricey equipment, while others don’t have this added cost. Other extra costs often include a registration fee, travel expenses, camps, or private lessons.
Project Play found that the sports with the highest average total costs were ice hockey ($2,583), skiing/snowboarding ($2,249), field hockey ($2,125), and gymnastics ($1,580). The least expensive sports were flag football ($268) and track and field ($191).
What Happens If You Can't Afford After-School Programs and Sports?
Even though the cost of sports is sometimes steep, it shouldn’t stand in your child’s way. There are ways to help fund your child’s athletic endeavors. Some sports leagues, programs, athletic initiatives, and community organizations provide need-based financial grants or scholarships. Likewise, a national group or nonprofit organization, such as Every Kid Sports offer funds to help families pay for athletic programs.
Businesses, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, also donate significant amounts of money to youth sports programs. This type of funding makes it possible for public schools and other sports programs to serve children in need.
Are you looking for more info on your child’s education and the costs related to it? Learn more about going back to school and the true cost of having a baby here.
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Erica is an experienced parenting and education writer, with an M.S. in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.