In 2021, child care costs rose by an average of 5% from the previous year — a rate that outpaced inflation in 2021, according to Child Care Aware survey data.
For many families, child care was more expensive than the price of housing and health insurance, the report found.
“Parents continue to face the challenge of finding and affording high-quality child care,” Lynette M. Fraga, CEO of Child Care Aware, said in a written statement, adding that "robust, long-term public support is needed to make child care affordable for families." This year, a reported 63% of parents say child care has become even more expensive than in previous years, according to a survey from Care.com.
Four parents pulled back the curtain on their finances and share how much of their 2022 budget went to paying for child care.
Their stories have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Erica Dumas, 30, California
Dumas is a public relations consultant making approximately $200,000 a year. A single mom, Dumas' 5-year-old daughter attends a private Catholic school five days a week, followed by aftercare, which costs $10 an hour. Dumas pays for private school because it was the only institution that would take her child, who at the time was under age 3. Three weeks of summer camp cost $898, pro-rated.
"Catholic School tuition is approximately $10,000 a year for the school year. Every month, I'd say I also spend between $300 to $400 on aftercare. I would say it comprises over 30% of my yearly income.
"I got divorced at the beginning of the pandemic, when I couldn't take my child to the grocery store because I was so afraid. I don't have family with me, and even now if I want to go out with friends or get a drink I have to factor in the cost of a babysitter, which is around $20 an hour.
"School lunch isn't free, so that's another $7-$8 a day. My daughter has activities like ballet and swimming classes, which are $45 an hour. If child care costs keep going up, I have to cut those activities.
"That doesn’t even factor in medical bills — every other day we’re in the emergency room because she has pneumonia or the flu or a really bad cough that won’t go away.
"I know there are people who make a lot less than I do, and I honestly don't know how they do it. I feel very fortunate, but even in my case I'm treading water half the time."
Stephanie Thomas, 29, Florida
Thomas is a social worker making $62,000 annually. Her husband is an engineer who makes around $150,000 a year. The pair have two kids, ages 3 and 1, who attend daycare.
"For both kids, we spend around $1,000 a month — roughly 30% of our budget and our number one most expensive cost. We pay more in daycare a month than we do our actual mortgage. It's crazy expensive.
"The rate also increases $10 per child every year. Thankfully, every year that our kiddos get older the rate also decreases by $5 per child. At the beginning of Covid, my son wasn't born yet and my daughter stayed home with me for about a month, so we paid $150 a week to hold her place at the daycare center.
"It just became very difficult working from home and having her there so we ended up sending her back. Thankfully, we haven't had any issues finding or keeping daycare, but we definitely had to pay to make sure we could still have it.
"Daycare is one of the big factors in considering whether or not we have a third child. The cost of daycare for children under 5 is already expensive, so I would say we're on the fence leaning towards not having another kid.
"We also talked about possibly moving to Maryland last year for a job opportunity for my husband, but I would have been going to a new state without a job and we were worried we wouldn't be able to afford daycare there with his salary alone — that was one of the reasons we opted not to move.
"Daycare has been a big strain on us — it makes us have to sacrifice a lot more, but in our eyes it's worth it to make sure our kids get the best opportunities."
Katie Klein, 37, New York
Klein has a 2-year-old daughter and is a motion picture designer. Her husband is a freight forwarder for international shipments. Every month the pair spend around $3,000 on their mortgage and have a family income of nearly $200,000 annually before taxes, which changes depending on bonuses and the number of hours her husband works. The price of their child care has been fixed since 2020.
"We spend $1,300 on child care for four days a week. All of our health insurance comes from my husband's job, and then I pay all of the child care bill for the month — for me, that's 1/3 of my monthly paycheck at least. I get paid twice a month, and take $650 from each paycheck and set it aside for day care. I used to use the Child Tax Credit to care for at-home care, which is more expensive than daycare, but that evaporated as we were transitioning to full-time daycare.
"Child care is very vital. It's a given — this kid does not let me sit on the computer. I'm not a surgeon or anything but I definitely need to put my head down and do my work during the day — or I'm expected to at least — and I don't have parents who can help me.
"I feel like there are better ways that the government and elected officials can help working parents. I think everyone needs a little leg up at this stage of the game, because It's not only care for your child but also for you.
"There's no free mental space when it's split between your employer and your kid, so having her at day care or having a day that I can catch up on things, even on something as stupid as laundry, makes me feel like a human."
Jennifer Wheeler, 33, Washington State
Wheeler is a patient care coordinator for a health insurance company making $30 an hour. Her husband works in recruiting and combined their household income is around $120,000. The pair rent their home and pay $1,400 a month. Wheeler's 3-year-old daughter attends 1/2 day in-home child care five days a week.
"We spend $14,000 annually for part-time care. This year, our day care provider's rates are going up by $200 a month. It's probably the second most expensive bill we have.
"It's hard because we don't have any family that lives nearby so child care is one of the only opportunities we have to get a break from parenting. And we really want to expand our family and give our daughter a sibling, but even the thought of doubling our child care cost? It's so hard thinking about how that would impact us — I mean, would it even worth it for one of us to work? Because if we're doubling the cost of child care we're not bringing much income home.
"I can also tell that our mental health suffers when we don't have access to child care. There have been times when our daughter has been sick and needed to stay home or the provider has gone on vacation for a few weeks and we're a lot more irritable and snapping at each other.
"My daughter is a toddler who requires a lot of attention and she's not fully independent so I feel like I'm unable to show up as the type of mom I want to be."