Why is child care so expensive and what can we do about it?

Published by Sarah Kinahan on

According to ChildCare Aware’s new report, child care is one of the largest expenses families face and is largely unaffordable throughout the nation. In San Mateo County, child care expenses for two children, estimated at $3,500/month, can easily exceed housing costs in a family’s budget (https://insightcced.org/2018-family-needs-calculator/). The unaffordability of child care places a huge economic and emotional burden on families and communities.

But why does it cost so much?

In an ideal child care program, you would find:

  • Ample, well-designed facility space,
  • Well-compensated, well-resourced, highly trained staff,
  • Low adult-to-child ratios and small groups sizes, and
  • Sufficient, healthy outdoor play space.

However, investments in all of these aspects of quality result in higher costs… costs that are passed on to parent consumers. Visit UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment for a short video visualizing the problem: “There’s a flaw in the system. Parent fees alone are not enough to fund quality, early education.”

The Center for American Progress provides an interactive tool demonstrating how choices to raise aspects of quality, like teacher salaries & benefits or bigger classrooms, also raise monthly tuition. The cost of child care is a serious equity issue because families with higher incomes can afford to purchase higher quality care, while lower-income families cannot.

What are we doing about this serious equity issue?

In San Mateo County, several initiatives, such as The Big Lift and EQ+IP, focus on creating greater access for all families to high-quality child care and preschool. Our initiative, Build Up for San Mateo County’s Children, is focused on addressing SMC’s extreme shortage of facilities to house high quality child care and preschool programs.

The cost of the child care program begins with the construction of the facility. In a recent needs assessment for San Mateo County, Brion Economics estimated it takes $40,717 in capital investments to build one child care space, not including the cost of land. To meet the estimated demand by 2025 requires $428 million in capital funding alone. Most child care programs are small businesses with low profit-margins that cannot afford to take on these capital costs without help. ChildCare Aware recommends among its policy solutions that the federal government invest infrastructure funds to help cover the start-up costs for child care businesses to support quality and access. Locally, Build Up is working with its partners at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Child Care Coordinating Council, First 5 San Mateo County, and Gilead Sciences, Inc. to start a Child Care Capital Fund to meet our regional needs.

What can you do?

  • Learn more about how Cities, Developers, School Districts and Faith-based Organizations can all take steps to help new child care businesses get off the ground in our Solutions Briefs.
  • Join Build Up’s mailing list to stay informed of our work in San Mateo County by emailing cpadilla@sanmateo4cs.org.
  • Contact your federal lawmakers to urge them to invest in child care using this simple form: https://childcareworks.org/take-action/contact-your-lawmakers/.
  • Download and share the infographics on social media referencing @BuildUpSMC using hashtag #ChildCareandUS.

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