The high cost of child care is tough for American parents to shoulder alone.
The Penny Hoarder surveyed 2,000 parents in September 2021, and about 84% said they found the cost of child care overwhelming.
A majority reported spending at least $750 per month on child care. Half said child care expenses represented at least 25% of their monthly income.
During the past year and a half, however, something unprecedented happened. By way of stimulus checks and child tax credits, many families received direct financial assistance from the government for the first time. The tax credits provide $300 per month for each child under age 6, and $250 a month for each child between ages 6 and 17.
This pandemic assistance has given families a glimpse of what it’s like to receive financial support to help tackle the costs of child care. Unsurprisingly, that help was well received.
Help From Uncle Sam
Seven out of 10 parents we surveyed said they used their stimulus money on child care costs.
More than half are receiving the monthly child tax credits, and 83% of those families said the payments have been helpful in paying for child care.
While $300 per month per child generally doesn’t cover the entire cost of day care, it can definitely ease the burden.
Congress is currently considering whether to extend the expanded child tax credit. Some lawmakers, though, are wary about the cost of extending the policy and the fact parents can receive monthly payments regardless of having earned income.
The monthly payments are scheduled to end in December, leaving many families wondering how they’ll be able to afford keeping their kids in child care.
Stress on the Horizon
One out of 5 parents we surveyed said they will not be able to continue paying for child care once the payments end. And some will be caught off guard when that day comes — about 37% said they weren’t aware of when the monthly payments end.
Almost 70% of parents say they feel stressed about what their family’s child care costs may look like in 2022. Nearly a third of survey respondents say they believe child care costs will be less manageable next year compared to this one.
The cost of child care already causes parents to make major sacrifices, like moving homes, leaving the workforce and going into debt. Nearly 63% of parents say the cost of child care has factored into their decision whether or not to have another child.
Finding More Sustainable Assistance
For a fortunate few, a more permanent solution is available: child care assistance offered by employers.
But that kind of employee benefit isn’t common. Only 16% of parents we surveyed said their employer already offers assistance with child care expenses.
What if more employers did provide child care stipends? Nearly 66% said they’d consider switching jobs to work for a company that does.
Among the parents who reported being often overwhelmed by the cost of child care, 76% said they’d consider switching jobs to get employer assistance.
“Historically, employers haven’t been eager to take on child care issues in the workplace,” said Theresa Adams, senior HR knowledge advisor for the Society for Human Resource Management.
But the pandemic highlighted a need to better support working parents, she said. Many companies changed their policies to allow employees to work remotely and have flexibility with their work hours.
Even before the pandemic, a small percentage of companies offered employee benefits such as discounted rates for local child care providers, on-site child care or assistance with child care referrals or backup care, Adams said.
Low-income families may be able to qualify for child care subsidies or to enroll their children in government-based programs, like Head Start.
If you’re unaware of what benefits your employer offers, Adams suggests reaching out to your human resource department or reviewing the benefits material you were given during the last open enrollment period or when onboarding with the company. Your job’s employee assistance program (EAP) may also be able to help you find affordable child care in your area.
If your company doesn’t offer child care assistance, it doesn’t hurt to voice your interest in having those benefits. Some employers simply aren’t aware of the needs of their employees or the advantages of offering child care assistance, Adams said.
“I think with the pandemic it’s brought it to the forefront,” she said. “But I don’t think the needle has moved as much as it could or it needs to.”
Methodology: The Penny Hoarder used Pollfish to conduct a national survey about the cost of child care with 2,000 people completing the survey Sept. 8-10, 2021. Survey responses are weighted so that each response is representative of the U.S. population.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Chris Zuppa, The Penny Hoarder’s multimedia content creator, contributed to this report.