How can this be?
Well, first off, the obvious: child care is very expensive. The cost of child care greatly exceeds the cost of college tuition at a public Oregon university. For full-time infant care at a licensed center, Benton County parents shell out an average of $12,000 a year. Little Beaver’s full-time care for toddlers is $947 a month. Corvallis Montessori’s full-time care for toddlers is $9,600 a year. Growing Oaks is $1,065 a month.
Two, and in unfortunate conjunction with the high cost of care, Oregon unemployment is high (7.9% as of June) and annual wages are low. Oregon’s per capita personal income in 2012 was 9% less than the national figure. A report by Oregon State University researcher Bonnie Weber documented that child care costs increased 13% from 2004 to 2012 while household incomes declined 9%.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that parents spend no more than 10% of family income on child care. Oregon parents are paying an average of 15.4%. The situation is even worse for low-income families: in Benton County, about 13% of all non-farm jobs are minimum wage jobs. The cost for toddler care as a percent of the annual income of a minimum wage worker is an astronomical 65%.
What about subsidies?
Without a child care subsidy, low-income parents could not afford to work, as most of their wages would be required to cover child care expenses. But unlike the cost of higher education, there is no system of public financing to help make child care more affordable for families. The subsidies that do exist are predominantly for low-income families. One of these is the Oregon Head Start Prekindergarten program, which provides early childhood development services to 466 children in Benton, Linn, and Marion counties. But the Head Start program is available only to families that live at or below the federal poverty level. Oregon Department of Human Services provides numerous programs, including Employment Related Day Care (ERDC). But ERDC is only available, with co-pay, for people who are working and earn below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level. According to an OSU study, recent budget cuts have constrained how many families can be served by the ERDC program. In 2012, approximately 13,000 children were served each month, slightly more than half the number served in 2009. Additionally, because of a weighted co-pay requirement in ERDC, many low-income families cannot make up the difference between the monthly subsidy they receive and the cost of child care.
In 2012, in Benton County, there were 3,658 children aged 0 to 4. But there were only 1,996 slots in child care centers and 451 slots in family child care homes. That’s a significant gap. Demand is so high that Corvallis child care centers encourage parents to apply for a slot months or years in advance, often before the child’s birth. Beaver Beginnings, one of Corvallis’ biggest daycares, currently has a multi-year wait list for infants. Michelle Lathrom, assistant director of Beaver Beginnings, said that the majority of people who get on the waitlist are never able to get in. Little Beavers daycare, also one of Corvallis’ largest daycares , currently has a single opening for a toddler, with a comparatively small waitlist of three parents, but once that’s filled another won’t open up for a “long, long time.”
Little wonder that survey findings show the majority of Oregonians rely on informal care: a parent, relative, or close friend. More than 55% of preschoolers are either at home with a parent or in an informal care setting. But while informal or unlicensed child care settings may be less expensive, they are neither inspected nor subject to basic health and safety requirements, minimum training requirements, or background checks for providers. About half of Oregon parents express some reservations about their child care situation, and one in five shares concerns about the child’s safety and security, according to a report by the Oregon Child Care Research Partnership. Additionally, children who receive informal childcare may not receive the same educational preparation and school readiness that center-based and home-based children receive.
A true ‘Culture Fail.’
The high, often unaffordable, cost of child care is indicative of a societal failure. A 2010 report released by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that quality child care has a long-lasting impact on a child’s development, behavior, and cognitive abilities. As detailed in a sobering article about American child care in “The New Republic,” James Heckman, the Nobel-winning economist, has calculated that, in the best early childhood programs, every dollar that society invests yields between $7 and $12 in benefits. Child care not only allows parents—especially mothers—to work, it helps children develop healthy social, emotional, intellectual, and physical skills. It’s such a cliché that we barely even heed its meaning, but by failing our children, by failing to invest in affordable, safe, and quality care, we are compromising our future.
By Nathaniel Brodie
Babysitting Co-ops? Yes, They Do Exist
Cooperatives are really popular organizational models right now, and for good reason: the concept is simple, and they work. So why not take child care matters into your own hands and put one together? All it takes is a few dedicated parents desperate for stable, safe and affordable childcare—and unfortunately those are never in short supply (especially in Oregon).
Frugal Mama (www.frugal-mama.com) has put together a comphrensive guide on the matter that covers everything from deciding what structure to use, getting organized, and finding others to be involved to managing reward points systems for members and tips on communication. They even provide access to brochures from existing babysitting co-ops so that you can get your feet planted on firm ground.
Check it out directly by visiting: www.frugal-mama.com/2010/02/how-to-start-a-babysitting-co-op-part-1.
By Johnny Beaver