So what does this mean? Over the past week or so, Modern Parenthood has been talking with a number of family and children advocates about the cost of childcare, as well as with a handful of parents. The high price of care, it turns out, often blindsides new parents, and has ripple effects that impact everything from a family’s debt situation to glass ceiling wages to that whole Mommy Wars debate between working and stay at home moms. (Which really starts to look silly in the face of all of this, I might add.)
Ponder, for instance, this fact, shared by Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder and chief executive of MomsRising.org, a social media site and advocacy group that boasts over a million mom members: Having a new baby is one of the top reasons for a “poverty spell,” the term for what happens when your income dips below what’s needed for food and rent.
The key factor in that “spill” is infant care. Without a paid maternity leave policy the US (reminder – we’re the only developed country in the world that rolls this way), and with only a percentage of employees qualifying for unpaid leave, many moms need to either put baby into day care as soon as possible or quit their jobs. This means a huge drop in income. Add another child and the situation becomes even more dire.
“Infant child care is among the most expensive childcare on the planet,” Ms. Rowe-Finkbeiner says. “If you have a baby and you don’t have access to childcare, you’re starting in a hole.”
Although the federal government distributes money to states to be used for child care subsidies for lower income families – this is called the Child Care and Development Block Grant – only one in six eligible children receive any money because of lack of funding. (In Maryland there are 19,000 kids on the waiting list for child care subsidies.) And other programs, from Head Start to child care tax credits, also either reach only a fraction of those in need, or provide only a tiny bit of relief, says Helen Blank, director of leadership and public policy with a focus on child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center.