Help! My Child Care Costs More than College!

When did the cost of daycare-early educationSince when did child care become more expensive than college?

We live in Brookline and pay $26,000 a year for daycare for our 2-year-old daughter. Let that sink in. $26,000! That’s the cost for a no-frills, middle-of-the-road, medium-size day care center. $26,000! That’s nearly double what an in-state student will pay to attend the University of Massachusetts this year. And those students get a meal plan! I still have to pack my kiddo lunch, snacks, and drinks each day.

While the media and others are celebrating the recent announcements from Netflix and other Silicon Valley tech companies about revamped and generous paid maternity and paternity leave policies, I can’t help but think we’re missing the bigger picture.

Yes, it is wonderful that parents get any paid maternity leave — be it two weeks or six months — but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. In nearly every state in the nation, children must be 5 years old to enter kindergarten. That means five years (or sometimes six if you miss the school entry cutoff) of paying for childcare. In the end, we’ll have paid over $100,000 for my kid to learn how to count, share, and sing her ABCs. That’s $100,000 to be kindergarten ready, not employment ready. There is something wrong here.

A recent Washington Post poll found that more than three-quarters of mothers and half of fathers in the U.S. say they’ve passed up work opportunities, switched jobs, or quit work to tend to their kids. While it saves families in the short term, they later pay a price.

One of the reasons my husband and I continue to work, despite a daycare bill that is more than our mortgage, is that leaving and then returning to the workforce years down the road would be fraught with challenges. Skills become outdated, confidence is eroded, and employers are biased. That might be why, according to the book “Lean In,” only 74 percent of professional women rejoin the workforce in any capacity, and only 40 percent return to full-time jobs.

So what’s the answer? It’s actually really simple. Make daycare and early education more affordable.

How?

  • The government can peg the dependent care savings account maximum to adjust with inflation so it isn’t stuck at $5,000 like it has been for decades.
  • There can be increases to child care subsidies or child care tax credits for individuals.
  • There can be tax incentives for companies to hire parents returning to the workforce.

Even better, let’s establish a state or national child care/early education system that starts at age 1. This could ensure all our children get a consistent quality level of education, which better prepares them to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. It also lets parents continue to work, advance their careers, save for retirement, and pay off their college loans. Or, dare I say, expand their families without the fear of a $52,000 daycare bill.


Several agencies in Massachusetts are working to address the high cost of early education. Learn more about this issue or get involved by visiting these websites: Strategies for Children, Stand for Children Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Association of Early Education and Care.

1 COMMENT

  1. I agree, but also think on a parent level we can make choices. I refused to give a daycare $26K/yr only to have a sick child (more hassle and lost work time…), more work to do at night to get my child out the door to day care and the running around of drop off and pick-up. And miss out on much of my small child’s world.
    I had to question-why am I doing this?
    Is this a good choice for us?
    I chose to work part-time and have someone watch in our home.
    It was less expensive, less illness, less running around-and my house was picked up, laundry done, an errand or two done.
    My child had one on one and also not constant staff turn over.
    I just think it is important that families consider that daycare is not the only option-
    A sitter/nanny is often cheaper and more practical.
    And for women who choose to stay home, I applaud you. While many women have to work, many others are working when a quick budget analysis would show that it is for trips to Aruba, bigger houses, better cars which in the end should never matter more than time and attention with your child and the memories you create.
    Just my opinion.

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