What We Need: A solution to child care costs

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these posts about what women need and what we can do together to try to make our lives better. Today I’m going to write about a topic that’s been a big one for both my family and the families of many of my friends: the cost of child care.

I live in a big city, Seattle. Around here, the going rate for full-time care for an infant at a child care center is somewhere between $1500 and $2200 a month. Yes, you read that right. When we started looking for child care for The Girl, first of all, EVERYWHERE had a wait list. We literally got on a wait list for a daycare the day we found out I was pregnant. But what really amazed me was the cost: $2090 a month. For one kid. And we provided the food and diapers. Let’s break that down for a minute. I work at a good job with a (barely) 6-figure salary. After retirement contributions, health insurance, taxes, and all that, I bring home about $2400 every two weeks. So basically, almost half my take-home pay would go to paying for child care costs at that daycare center.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a lot of families look at those costs and say “Fuck it, I’m staying home with my kid.” I mean, I make enough money to make it work, but I’m a lawyer and I have a husband who also has a good job with a good salary, so we can make it work. What if I made half what I do? What would be the point of me going back to work? It would make no financial sense at all.

Now, I don’t begrudge child care workers their salary. Because, honestly, do you know any child care workers who are rich? Like, seriously, the (mostly) women who provide child care in this country work long hours of dealing with tantrums and poop and gazillions of children all at once, for often very low pay. The whole thing is completely fucked up. We can barely afford to pay for child care, but they can barely afford to live on what we can afford to pay them. How the hell did this mess happen?

I think the real structural problem is the way that labor and family rearing have evolved in this country since the 70’s. Women can work now, and workplace discrimination is slowly receding, but with women coming into the workplace, there has been no change to the way we structure salaries and work hours to reflect that somebody’s gotta be watching the children. Who is that going to be when both parents are working outside the home? It’s got to be someone, but somehow, society hasn’t evolved a solution to make child care affordable for working families.

What is the solution, then? Honestly, I have no idea. Child care workers deserve decent pay; families need safe and affordable places for their children to be while their parents work. I’ve seen people float the idea of tax credits as a way to offset child care costs, or perhaps subsidies for low income families. Coops seem to help for people who can make those work? Maybe there is no silver bullet, but I feel like there HAS to be a way to make it less shitty. So, if you know of a great idea to fix this, please share it in the comments.