Child care is getting more expensive. Here’s how much parents are paying and ways they’re coping with rising prices

Personal Finance

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American parents, already grappling with rising inflation, are facing another soaring cost: child care.

Some 63% of parents report child care has become more expensive over the past year, according to a survey by Care.com. That high number has many concerned about whether they can afford care and what changes they may have to make to accommodate the rising costs.

“When you think about, as a nation, how much we are spending on child care, and you think about rising costs of goods due to inflation … it is more than a double whammy,” said Natalie Mayslich, president of consumer for Care.com.

“People are being hit across all sectors and it is happening at the same time.”

The cost of nannies rose about 20% over the course of the pandemic, while babysitting and day care costs are up 5% to 15%, according to Care.com.

About half, 51%, of parents said they spend more than 20% of their household income on child care and 72% reported spending 10% or more. Care.com surveyed 3,003 U.S. adult parents who are paying for professional child care. The poll took place from March 24 to 30.

Child care is considered affordable when families spend no more than 7% of their household income, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

‘We’re so burned out’

For single mother Tori Snyder, figuring out child care while running a small business has been challenging. During testimony in front of the House Ways and Means Committee last week, she called for the government to step in and help with affordability and infrastructure.

“We are so burned out, exhausted, overworked, and overtired,” said Snyder, who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is a member of the advocacy group MomsRising.

“We’re struggling even more now because it’s so expensive to feed our children.”

While inflation plays a role in the higher costs, the bigger issue is fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, Mayslich said.

Almost 9,000 child care centers closed between December 2019 and March 2021, according to ChildCare Aware. Now, many parents are facing waitlists that are at least two years long, Mayslich noted.

There has also been an increased demand for nannies and babysitters, as parents in hybrid roles look for help covering nontraditional work hours.

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Parents are making changes in order to accommodate the rising costs, with 31% of those surveyed by Care.com saying they are considering taking on a second job. Some 26% are reducing hours at work, 25% are changing jobs and 21% said they’re leaving the workforce entirely.

“The rising cost of child care is causing families to work less, and as a result of that, save less and spend less, so it is having a massive impact on the economy overall,” Mayslich said.

Some are also reconsidering having another child: 35% said they’re less likely to have more children, with 43% reporting the rising cost of care being a major reason.

Employers are stepping up

While advocates want the government to help with affordability, infrastructure and access, employers can also play a role, Mayslich said.

The rising cost of child care is causing families to work less, and as a result of that, save less and spend less.
Natalie Mayslich
General manager at Care.com

Fully 56% of employers offer child care benefits, according to Care.com’s 2022 Future of Benefits Report, which collected responses from 501 C-suite and Human Resource decision-makers.

“We, as a nation, collectively have realized that more needs to be done to support families overall,” Mayslich said.

What parents can do to save on child care

In the meantime, parents should analyze their specific situation to ensure they’ve chosen the most cost-effective option. For instance, in-home providers may be less expensive than sending multiple children to day care. Care.com has a calculator that allows you to search for pricing in your area.

You can also set aside pretax dollars in a dependent care flexible-spending account, if your employer offers one. The savings will vary, but Care.com approximates that it is around $2,000 in tax savings, assuming the family sets aside the full $5,000 in pretax dollars into the account.

Paying your caregiver legally — or on the books — for children under age 13 allows you to get a child and dependent care tax credit. While the credit was expanded under the American Rescue Plan Act, it reverted back to the previous rules for 2022: up to $600 for one child or up to $1,200 for two or more qualifying dependents.

You can’t claim money for the tax credit that was covered by a pretax flexible spending account. However, if your qualified expenses exceed your FSA amount, you can use the excess toward the tax credit.

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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