A Millennial’s View on Child Care Options

The other night, over dinner, my roommate and I started discussing our plans to have children. However, this was not the usual talk of how many kids we wanted or if we wanted a boy or a girl. Instead, we were trying to figure out at what age we would need to have kids so that our parents could still care for them.

We are not the only ones having this conversation. Many of our other millennial friends who plan on having children are wondering how they will be able to afford child care.

After spending the past year analyzing data about child care in New Jersey and speaking with parents about the challenges of finding and affording high-quality child care, I now understand why.

Recently, the New York Times published an article about Americans having less children. They surveyed young adults and found the top three reason people were not having any children was the high cost of child care. Of those surveyed who have a child but said they would have fewer children than they wanted, the cost of child care was the number one reason.

New Jersey has one of the worst rates for infant care in the nation. In Union County, where I live, the median weekly cost of child care for an infant is $246.

In ACNJ’s focus groups and conversations with parents, many expressed frustration and desperation at the costs of child care. One mother equated what she paid in child care to the cost of attending college. Another mother said it cost more than her rent. Many parents told us that most, if not all, of their salary went to child care. Even higher-income parents confided that they were struggling to pay.

With such limited affordable high-quality options, many of the mothers we spoke with chose to quit their jobs and stay home with their baby rather than pay for child care. But in the long run, is this really the most economical option for families?

The Center for American Progress created a tool to help families calculate how much earnings they would lose if they exited the workforce to care for their children. The calculator combines total earning loss, including your current salary, salary growth and retirement savings. If I have a baby in the next year and take three years off of work, I will lose about $423,000 over my lifetime compared to about $33,000 I would have paid in child care over three years.

This puts parents in a tricky situation. Do you pay for child care and struggle to make ends meet, or do you quit your job to stay home and lose out on years on savings?

An increasing number of parents are fortunate to rely on grandparents for care as the solution. In fact, last year, the national nonprofit ZERO TO THREE reported that grandparent care is now one of the most common methods of child care. Grandparent care may be the most cost-effective solution, especially for millennials who are facing high costs of living, low wages and often large student debt.

But what about families that do not have parents, family or friends to rely on? What is the solution for them?

In New Jersey, there is only enough space in child care centers for 27 percent of infants and toddlers with working parents. In one of the focus groups, a mother said she called her local child care center to reserve a spot as soon as she found out she was pregnant!

However, finding a high-quality center is even more difficult. Of the more than 1,700 centers that are licensed to serve infants and toddlers, only 41 have been quality rated. In our focus groups, parents recounted horror stories of babies being left in classrooms alone and illnesses and injuries that went unnoticed.

A year ago, I would not have factored child care into my decision to have children. But like many millennials, I’ve come to the realization that I need to think about child care when planning on having children. As the data and stories show, I cannot count on finding an affordable high-quality center to send my baby to.

Millennials are often faulted for being too dependent on their parents, but looking at the state of child care, do we have any other options?

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