There was a great article that recently printed in the NY Times, entitled, “Why U.S. Women Are Leaving Jobs Behind.”
In the article, the author points out that the percentage of US women ages 25-54 (presumably the age during which women would have children at home) that are employed fell from 74% in 2000 to 69% in 2013. The author calls out the fact that there are a lack of family friendly policies in the US that provide working moms with the flexibility to balance work-life priorities in a way that is both satisfying to them, and meet their families’ needs. In particular, she highlights the correlation between paid family leave and maternal employment rates, a topic that CTWM Founder Michelle Noehren is especially passionate about.
In looking at the data, I became focused on a different dimension of the same topic – the incredibly high cost of childcare in the US, the lack of public subsidies available to families with children, and the lack of full-time care. While the data in the article did not elaborate further on the cost of childcare, I was able to find the source of data to study it further.
The data came from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in which member countries provided demographic and statistical data about cost of childcare, public funding, and rates of employment. The results were fascinating and a little bit embarrassing:
- Of the 25 countries who responded, the US stood in the bottom 10 of mothers (age 25-54) with children under 15 who are employed. The average rate was 67%, the highest was 84% (Slovenia; followed by the Netherlands at 77%). The US, the so-called “Land of Opportunity”, was only at 62%.
- Of the bottom 10 countries of maternal employment, the US fell at the LOWEST rate of public subsidies in family benefits (which included tax rebates, childcare allowances, public funding on early childhood education and support) at 1.6% of GDP (Note: there was no data for Greece).
- Of the bottom 10 countries of maternal employment, the cost of daycare (for a 2 year old child) as a % of wages was in the highest 3 at 42% of wages (ranking only better than Ireland and UK, both at 53%. Note: there was no data for Italy)
This issue has long been a pet peeve of mine – in the US, the cost and logistics of full-time childcare make it hard to justify returning to work. In my town alone, early education is geared at non-working moms – there are SO FEW preschool facilities that have programs within town lines that provide some sort of coverage until 6pm; most preschools end at 12:30 or 1 and have no extended care. At the preschool 5s level, there were really only three viable options for us. One is the school that we are in – it is a preschool that works on the academic calendar, for which I am required to bridge care after school (after 2:30), during the summer, and on school vacations through extended care, babysitting, camp and vacation days. The other two options are DAYCARE facilities with preschool curriculums attached to them – these facilities operate full day, year-round. All three options average about $1,500 to $2,000 per month per child once you factor in the extended/summer care.
I get it – I know that in order to provide quality education and care in clean, safe facilities, the overhead costs are naturally going to be higher. Building rental fees are high, and teachers’ salaries and benefits must be decent in order to minimize turnover. I’m not necessarily advocating for a reduction in fees, other than stating that the cost of everything around here is ridiculously high – I’m simply stating that because of limited publicly funded programs, the options are equally limited for working parents. Consider this – at the lower range $1,500 per month (the lowest fee I quoted), for one child alone, you’d have to make over $18,000 after taxes to break even. This doesn’t even consider the fact that you’d have other living expenses.
I joked around with friends that if I compared my cost to the cost of sending a child in-state to the University of Connecticut Storrs (roughly $13,000 in tuition plus fees but excluding room and board), I’d be better off coaching my kids to become child prodigies and sending them there!
All joking aside, we are really only scratching the surface as it relates to the need to provide options for parents to be able to comfortably return to work – in reality, while the family dynamic HAS been shifting, the majority of the burden still often falls on the mother to make the career sacrifices. Advancements that we have made in workplace arrangements are being hindered by structural limitations. The answer is not easy, nor will it be immediate, but SOMETHING needs to change.