Parents Casey and Jennifer Gray knew it would be tough on their finances to have kids.
Diapers, baby food and little shoes aren’t cheap. But it was the day care bill that was truly eye-popping.
The Coventry Township couple take their 3-year-old son Ian and 17-month-old daughter Cecelia to day care only two days a week. Their weekly bill: $170, which calculates to a whopping $8,840 a year.
“We’re old enough to know that it’s our responsibility to take care of our kids and pay for our own kids and do what we have to, but it shouldn’t be this difficult,” said Casey, 38, a former active U.S. Marine who’s attending Kent State University so he can become a high school teacher. “I think child care is inflation crazy.”
A new Census Bureau report supports that view. Child care costs have risen 255 percent since 1985 — outstripping inflation by about 2½ times over that period.
Families with an employed mother paid an average of $143 a week in 2011 to care for children under 15, up from $40.30 in 1985, according to the census report Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011.
Meanwhile, the average bill totaled $181 a week for children under 5. The report doesn’t break out the cost of child care at an organized day care facility vs. paying a relative.
An estimated 12.5 million kids younger than 5 attended some regular child care arrangement in 2011, whether it was with a relative, baby sitter or day care facility.
“Perhaps the most critical decision parents make in balancing their work and home life is choosing the type of care to provide for their children while they work,” wrote the report’s author, Lynda Laughlin, a family demographer with the bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch.
“Child care arrangements and the financial burden they impose on families are important issues for policymakers and anyone concerned about the welfare of children.”
Other findings include:
•?Grandparents cared for 24 percent of preschoolers, while fathers cared for 18 percent.
•?Nearly 25 percent of preschoolers were enrolled in an organized day care. More than a third had no regular child care.
•?Preschoolers spent an average of 33 hours a week in child care.
•?Families in poverty spent a far larger share of their income on child care than families at or above the poverty line — 30 percent compared with 8 percent.
The census also reported that the number of child care facilities nationwide grew from 262,511 in 1987 to 766,401 in 2007, the most recent year that data is available.
In Ohio, the number jumped from 8,345 to 25,184 over the same period.
Paying for care
Thirty-two percent of families with an employed mother reported paying for care in 2011, Laughlin said. The census didn’t include families with no income or those who received child care subsidies.
The census estimated that families paid 7 percent of their household income toward child care. ?The report shows, though, that the average monthly family income was $8,673 — or $104,076 a year.
For families like the Grays, what they pay is a whole lot more than 7 percent.
Jennifer, 33, a retail manager, said her family scrimps because of the day care bill. In addition to going to school, Casey works part time.
For a while, they used a less expensive baby sitter, but that person was unreliable. So they shopped around for day care — and were shocked at the prices.
Like many others, they’ve been turned down for assistance because their income is too far above the federal poverty level for a family of four.
“I spend at least two hours a week just cutting and filing coupons and planning my grocery shopping just to save as much as we can,” Jennifer said. “We aren’t able to go out to dinner or for many activities that we used to be able to. We turn down invites from friends to join them in certain things. We live paycheck to paycheck. And a very thrifty lifestyle at that.”
Other families tell similar stories.
“It’s very difficult to do much outside of day-to-day stuff,” said Kristy Meyer, 37, of Columbus.
Meyer, who works in the nonprofit field, and her husband, Chase, 39, who works in construction, pay $556 a week to send their 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to day care. That amounts to more than $28,000 a year.
“The cost of day care is just crazy,” Kristy said. “It’s more expensive than our mortgage.”
Kristy, who loves her day care provider, said she often has to remind herself the money is being well spent on her children.
Sheena Fain, 30, a single mother from Akron, said she switched jobs to make more money to pay for day care for her 3-year-old son, even though the new job as a real estate assistant offered no health benefits.
She pays about $600 a month. She questioned how parents, especially single parents, can afford day care.
“I’ve asked other single mothers: ‘What do you do?’?” she said.
The answers always came back to a relative or friend — or some situation that wasn’t best for the children, she said.
Fain, who also is getting a human resource management degree from the University of Phoenix, doesn’t qualify for financial assistance.
“I feel like I’m being punished,” she said. “I wish they had more scholarships for single parents or more programs for children so parents could afford to go to work and still be able to live life and not have to give up everything.”
Fain said she has considered opening her own day care center.
“It’s become a lucrative business,” she said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.