The high cost of care: Child care rates exceed college tuition

WASHINGTON — Saving for college is a struggle for many parents — but at least there are 18 years. Imagine shelling out a year’s worth of college tuition before your child is a year old. That’s what many parents across the country are experiencing as the costs of child care continue to increase.

In 2012, the average annual cost for center-based infant care was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college in 31 states and in the District of Columbia, according to the 2013 “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care” report.

In many areas of the country, including D.C., the cost of child care exceeds annual median rent payments.

According to Evgeniya Usmanova, co-founder of CareLuLu, a D.C.-based company that matches parents with child care providers, D.C. is the most expensive area in the country for child care, costing parents up to $22,000 a year.

Massachusetts comes in second with an average cost of $16,430, followed by New York at $14,939.

The high cost of care is why many moms are choosing to stay home full-time, rather than return to work, a recent PEW study suggests.

Day-care sticker shock has been overwhelming for D.C.-based Sarah Fogel, who is expecting her first child in August.

“This is actually the only thing I am really worrying about right now,” she says. “It’s been a shocking surprise. You’re looking at $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 a year before your child is even one.”

What makes D.C. so expensive? Usmanova attributes the cost of care to expensive rents and a high cost of living.

Expectant mom Holly Malone says the day-care prices she’s been seeing are going to affect her finances.

“We have two incomes and it’s really going to take a big chunk out of our budget,” she says.

Malone, who is due in September and lives in D.C., has her name on waiting lists at several day-care centers. She says some of those lists are a year long.

While some centers offer perks, such as a greater number of teachers on staff or a focus on a second language, Malone says she’s looking for the basics.

“We’re just looking for certified child-care places that we can afford [and] that are anywhere close to where we work or live,” she says.

If child care plans don’t work out for mom-to-be Fogel, she says she’ll turn to plan B — grandparents who live close by.

Do you have a day care dilemma? Let us know in the comments section of this story, on Twitter or on the WTOP Facebook page. Until then, a local parent shares her take on child care.

The crossroads
By Evanthia Granville

Remember those “choose your own adventure” books? At a crossroads in the plot, you could select a path for the characters. If one didn’t turn out well, you could just try another.

I’ve often thought of my decision to leave the workforce and become a stay-at-home mom as one of those important life crossroads, where it might be fun to know the alternate ending.

When I got pregnant with our first child, I was in my third year of teaching. I’d worked hard to go back to graduate school to get my master’s degree in education, and I finally had my own classroom.

When I found out I would be welcoming a baby into my life, I weighed my options: Continue to work as hard as I feel the profession necessitates and find really excellent child care with extended hours, or put my teaching career on hold, indefinitely.

However, it turns out, finding that great child care wasn’t easy — at all.

I asked around and received a bunch of recommendations from colleagues, but each and every place I called had a waiting list. Every. Single. One.

I thought I was on top of things — calling around in the second trimester of my pregnancy — but apparently the other working moms had beat me to it.

So I tried to go it alone and find a place to care for my child for the 10 to 11 hour days I normally worked. There were endless considerations: proximity to home and/or work, accreditation, reputation, cleanliness, the ratio of caregivers to children, etc.

I was overwhelmed with my research and frustrated by the fact that most places would not have any openings at the time when I would have returned to work.

And the kicker? The cost of putting a couple of kids in day care was going to eat up almost two-thirds of my measly public school teacher paycheck.

In essence, I would have been taking home peanuts and hardly seeing my kids.

For me, the choice to stay home was easy, and I’ve never regretted it a single day. I love being with my girls. Plus, no matter how good I was at my job and how much I loved it, working that hard just to see my paycheck disappear in child care costs — and seeing my kids spend most of their waking hours in someone else’s care — wasn’t worth it to me.

Sometimes, when I think about all those students in my classroom, who I do miss, I wonder about that alternate ending to my story.

Editor’s Note: Evanthia is the co-creator of merelymothers, a blog that encourages you to press the pause button on parenting, and reflect on why you do what you do. She’s an introspective mom to two girls, a creative type, neat freak and baker extraordinaire. You can find Evanthia and her co-conspirator, Sarah, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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