Daycares are shuttering across the country and working parents are panicking, especially as schools announce closures for the fall. No wonder people without kids are looking around and saying, no thanks.
But childcare in the US has long been a problem—well before the pandemic made it painfully clear—and a new survey proves it. According to findings released July 23, 9 out of 10 Millennials and Gen Zers say the cost of childcare is an important factor when determining whether or not to have children. They ranked it as more important than student loan debt or access to affordable housing. Of those without children, over half say the cost of childcare is a very important factor in whether they choose to have children in the first place.
The findings, released by Next100, are part of the GenForward Survey, a project of Professor Cathy J. Cohen at the University of Chicago, which includes a nationally representative survey of over 3,000 young adults ages 18 to 36. It was conducted between February 7 and February 20, well before states locked down to slow the growth of COVID-19.
This isn’t the first time a survey has shown that childcare costs are a big impediment to having kids. According to a 2019 survey in The New York Times, “childcare is too expensive,” was the No. 1 reason people said they had or expected to have fewer children than they considered ideal.
That’s because it costs more to raise a family in the US than anywhere else in the world, and childcare accounts for a big chunk of that. The average working family with children under age 5 spends nearly 10 percent of their family income on childcare. (The Department of Health and Human Services says childcare should cost no more than 7 percent.) Low-income families end up spending far more than 10 percent on childcare, particularly in areas where costs are especially high. The average family in New York City spends $16,250 per year for infant care. The median household income in the city is $60,762. That means infant care would eat up a whopping 27 percent of the median family income in New York—and that’s if you have just one kid who needs it.
Several presidential candidates announced plans to curb the costs of childcare, including, most recently, former Vice President Joe Biden. He unveiled a 10-year $775 billion proposal that offers subsidies, tax credits and universal preschool as a means of making childcare more affordable for low-income and middle-class working families.
If anything, the pandemic has exacerbated the childcare crisis in the US. A recent survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) of more than 5,000 childcare providers from all 50 states, as well as Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, found that 40 percent of childcare centers are at risk of closing permanently in the coming months if they don’t receive an infusion of cash from the federal government. That’s at a time when many working parents are looking for care providers to cover for schools that won’t be reopening in the fall.
Experts are concerned childcare closures and costs will push many women out of the workforce this fall, and they’re right to be worried. So are Millennials and Gen Zers—75 percent of women in the GenForward survey say that the lack of access to affordable childcare is a barrier to their professional success. And, again, the survey was taken before stories surfaced of moms being laid off and berated while trying to work from home with children during the lockdowns.
It just goes to show how crucial it is that Congress keeps the childcare industry afloat right now—but also that lawmakers address the long-term problems of access, quality and affordability. Otherwise, half of two entire generations might decide they’re better off with a dog.