© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Financial Trials Of Child Care For Working Families


This is Hanging On. It's our series about the economic pressures of American life. Many Americans are struggling with the cost of child care. It's even become an issue on the presidential campaign trail. In a minute, we're going to hear about both candidates and their plans - rather ambitious ones - to help families cope with the expense, but first someone who's dealing with this kind of challenge firsthand.

REBECCA RESMAN: My name is Rebecca Resman, and I live in Chicago, Ill. And I have two kiddos (ph). My oldest, Sloane (ph), is 3 and a half and my youngest, Max, is 18 months. So they're just under two years apart.

MARTIN: When her second child was born, she decided it was just too much money to pay for child care for both kids.

RESMAN: You know, really forced us to kind of look at our expenses, look at our income, and it seemed like that was going to be the best thing. So yeah, about two months after my second child we thought, this isn't working. I'm going to leave my job. And I took on freelance projects and worked from home with minimal child care. Usually, I would get work done during naps. So I was able to bring in a little bit of income and actually make more money doing that than if I was to be working full-time and paying for child care.

MARTIN: And for people who don't know, there are options. Can you walk through why those options weren't working for you?

RESMAN: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So where we live in Chicago, day care centers, which are very popular and are more regulated, tend to cost in the $2,000 range per month per kid, give or take. And for us, for kid 1, it was something that stung a lot. But when you add a second kid to the mix, that just simply wasn't going to work.

Option 2 was finding a nanny share. And that is where you work with another family together and you hire a nanny who cares for all of your children at the same time. And it's great 'cause you split the cost of the child care. But again, once you add that second child to the mix the affordability just goes down the drain.

So we actually - I was really lucky because the job I was at, when things were just getting overwhelming with my work-life balances they offered a work-from-home and reduced-hours option. And that worked really well. And that was actually a situation we were working with for about a year and a half.

MARTIN: Why did that stop?

RESMAN: For me, that stopped, again, with the second child. It just - you know, not being able to purposefully schedule, like, conference calls and things, you know, with the uncertainty of when kids would be awake, that was just really challenging.

MARTIN: So when you got married and you and your husband decided - or maybe you already knew - you wanted to have kids, you wanted to have a family, how did you envision that life? Did you assume you were going to work? Did you want to work?

RESMAN: Yeah, you know, I always assumed I would be working.

MARTIN: Because you wanted to or you thought you would just financially have to?

RESMAN: I assumed I'd financially have to. But I also wanted to. I think my perfect world vision for myself would be that I - that my husband and I both would be working jobs that we enjoy, that have a good work and life balance. I will say what we've been trying to tell ourselves is this is just going to be stinky. It's going to be hard for a few years.

And the light at the end of the tunnel for us is when that child care situation and cost drops dramatically, whether it's when the kids go to school or when one of them goes to school and that we only have to pay, again, for one child to be in a full-time day care. Then, you know, our earning capacity will essentially double. So we're looking forward to that, but we definitely feel worn down.

MARTIN: That was Rebecca Resman of Chicago. To put her story in context, we're joined by NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Hi, Jennifer.


MARTIN: We just heard that for Rebecca, it made more sense for her to leave her full-time job because the cost of child care was just too high. She couldn't afford to work, in other words. Is child care truly getting more expensive?

LUDDEN: You know, Rachel, you see a lot of news reports saying that it is, that it is skyrocketing. When you look closely, it's hard to say. I mean, there's different kinds of child care - in-home, center-based. Some people look at the share of people's income, and there has been a slight rise over the years. However, you know, when you look at this in the big picture, we also have stagnant wages. We have more single parents, young couples with student debt. There's this stunner stat which is that in most states today the average cost of child care in a center is more than what a typical family pays for rent or mortgage. And in many states, it's more than in-state college tuition.

MARTIN: We're not talking about a private nanny in a house. This is a day care center.

LUDDEN: Yes, a day care center. At the same time, we've seen states making cuts in child care subsidies. So those who really need it the most, there's less available. There's a long waiting lists. Only about 1 in 6 people who are eligible for child care subsidies actually get it.

MARTIN: OK, so let's get to the politics of this. The presidential candidates - both of them have been talking about child care costs recently. Donald Trump announced his proposal earlier this month as part of his economic plan. What'd he say?

LUDDEN: He wants to let parents deduct child care expenses from their taxes. At first he said fully deduct, then he said they could deduct the average costs of child care. We're not sure how that would be calculated. This would be a huge boon for better-off families. But we've heard critics across the political spectrum say that it would do nothing for the poor...

MARTIN: Who don't make deductions.

LUDDEN: ...Who do not make deductions, and also for those who don't earn enough to actually pay federal income tax. And we don't have any details on how Trump would pay for this large-scale deduction.

MARTIN: OK, what about Hillary Clinton? What's her child care proposal?

LUDDEN: Her boldest idea is to cap the costs of child care at 10 percent of household income. Again, not a lot of details yet, but she says she would do this with a combination of tax credits and more subsidies. She also wants free public pre-K, and she wants to pay child care workers more. She says that would improve the quality of child care. But as with Trump's proposal, we don't have details on how Clinton would pay for all this.

MARTIN: But it is interesting that both presidential candidates are floating these kinds of plans.


MARTIN: Are we headed for a more European-style system here? I mean, in Europe, countries give so much more state-based support for families...

LUDDEN: Right.

MARTIN: ...In terms of child care.

LUDDEN: Well, it is notable, you know, that you have both parties, as you said - this is a big departure for the Republican Party. Trump has said his daughter, Ivanka, is really pushing this issue, you know, but his proposal was only the second time he's ever mentioned it on the campaign trail. It's really not clear how much support he would have within the wider Republican Party. For Clinton, child care is a really long-time pet issue of hers, and she would have a lot of support among many Democrats. The question would be how to pay for all of this, and would there be enough political will to actually do that?

MARTIN: NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Thanks so much, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.