Lately, politicians have been making a bunch of noise about affordable childcare. Here’s the part of the problem they are focusing on: “The average cost of full-time daycare for kids up to the age of 4 has reached $9,589 a year.” Just for reference, with the minimum wage at $7.50, a minimum wager lucky enough to actually get 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year makes $15,600 — and that almost never actually happens. Median income in the United States (remember, half of us earn more and half earn less) is
Median income in the United States (remember, half of us earn more and half earn less) is $53,657. That means that many families are spending a fifth of their monthly income or more on childcare. Even for somebody fortunate enough to make $100,000 is paying a tithe for an average daycare bill. Even though the problem is hitting low-income families hardest, the families of roughly 32,700,000 families feel this burn.
The other side of the problem is that child care workers are poorly paid: “These workers earned an average hourly wage of $9.40. This hourly pay rate translates to an average annual wage of $19,560. The median hourly pay rate was $8.94, which means that half of childcare workers in the daycare industry made more than $8.94 and half earned less.” This leads to high turnover, which isn’t good for the kids.
So let me summarize both halves of the coin: childcare workers are paid a pittance, yet child care is too expensive for workers who need it. That’s a big problem. It can’t be solved by paying childcare workers $15 an hour and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour: that still leaves workers paying too much of their salary for childcare (X still equals X)! It can’t be solved (completely) by office daycare centers: over 80% of us work for small employers where that’s just not possible. It is neither practical nor desirable to assume that there will be willing and able relatives to take care of our children.
How do we solve this problem? I don’t know. The one thing I do know is that market forces are not sufficient to make it happen.