The Department of Health and Human Services says that child care costs should be about 7% of a family’s income. But a recent study at the University of New Hampshire shows that on average, poor families spend almost 20% of their income on child care. For some families, the cost is prohibitive. Mari Villaluna, for example, a 36-year-old career counselor, tutor, and single mother, put her monthly take-home pay, about $3000, on one side of a sheet of paper and then listed her monthly expenses on the other side. When she factored in the $2500 she expected to pay for child care, she realized that she’d be behind by $15 a month. No matter how she calculated, she concluded that she’d always be “in the negative,” so she dropped out of the work force and stayed home to care for her daughter.*
Ms. Villaluna’s situation is not atypical, especially for women, and it can have deleterious effects for both parties. Children lose the opportunity for the social interaction and cognitive stimulation that a high-quality preschool can provide. Parents lose the chance to gain work experience, build their resumes, increase their earnings, and propel their children and even their grandchildren up the social ladder.
Helping parents pay for preschool is expensive for society. Yet forcing parents out of the workforce is also expensive. Parents who are unable to work may well need assistance for housing, food, and health care. Mara Villaluna, for example, now lives on a disability payment from the military, assistance from her state welfare program, and a federal housing subsidy.
Obviously some parents can afford to stay home with their children and wish to do so. But parents shouldn’t be forced to drop out of the workforce because of the high cost of preschool. Strong Start Tucson can help make sure this doesn’t happen for thousands of parents and their 3- and 4-year-olds.
Emerita Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Rutgers Graduate School of Education
*Source: Natalie Kitroeff, “Why Are So Many Women Dropping out of the Workforce?” Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2017.