Julie Blair blogged on July 9 for Education Week’s blog titled The Early Years regarding the sticker shock of placing a child in a full-time child-care center in Chicago. By Blair’s report, the cost to parents will be $12,200, or roughly $1,016 per month, for one year of care. She tells us this estimate is “$200 more than you’ll likely pay for a year of in-state college tuition in Illinois — and more than you’d likely pay for housing over a four-week time frame in Cook County, where the city of Chicago is located.”
Blair points out that although the numbers come from an expensive area of the country, she reminds us that “they do give us insight to one major expense in the life of a young family.” Even though child care gets cheaper as kids get older, Cook County statistics tell us that full-time care for 3- and 4-year olds is $8,956 for one year — about $746 per month. Blair poignantly points out that considering those numbers is even more shocking when you consider the fact that the the average amount of money earned by a child-care provider in America, according to the federal government, is $9.28 an hour (slightly above the federal minimum wage of $9 an hour).
From there, it just gets more depressing. Blair says that the full-time child-care workers in the Cook County centers in which they work earn $371.20 on average before taxes — or about $1,484.80 per month. So, as she tells us, “the very folks who care for our youngest children would pay all but $468.80 of their own salaries to place their own babies in the centers.” Not only that, but if the child-care workers had both an infant and a preschooler, which is quite a common age-gap in today’s families, they would “have a bill of $1,762 — much more than they actually make.”
Blair asks readers to consider several questions. She asks us to wonder “why the field of early-childhood education — which is populated mostly by women –has such a high turnover rate?” She causes us to ponder whether the cost of American child care is too high and for whom. The most important question she asks us is just how much we think those who stand in for us as parents while we work should be paid.
After reading Blair’s blog, I couldn’t help asking another question. If child-care workers can’t afford the quality, “expensive” child-care centers as high-income earners can, where and by whom are their own children being cared for? A flurry of images came into my mind after I posed the question to myself. I pictured babies, toddlers and preschoolers in unsafe and poor quality child-care settings, in settings in which a TV functions as the babysitter, in under-stimulating, developmentally inappropriate settings, with teenage siblings who have dropped out of school and are now caring for their younger siblings and who, quite possibly, have become parents themselves at the age of 16 or 17 (or younger!), or with care providers who have no training in getting children ready for school and life.
Each image made me feel sad. I felt sad for those children who will be grossly unprepared for school. I felt sad for the families who will be so happy the day they get to send their children to a free, public school, only to be greatly disheartened when the children struggle every day there. I felt sad for the people who will wonder why and be upset by the children’s struggles, the parents, the teachers, the school administrators and officials, the governors, congressman and the President. I felt sad knowing how hard everyone will work to help the children see their potential as learners and citizens. But, in the end, I felt the most sad knowing that the crucial period of development from birth to 3 is over for these children and that so many of them will end up where their own parents did: dropping out of school, making minimum wage or having trouble finding/keeping a job, and struggling to pay for child care for their own children for whom they have dreams of a better life than their own. To me, until every child in America gets the best start in life from birth to 3 year old, the cycle of poverty and our failing education system will continue for decades to come.