Unemployment has been above 8 percent for 42 consecutive months, and women face far more obstacles than men in their efforts to enter and rejoin the workforce. One of the main reasons, says an article in Bloomberg, is childcare and specifically, the cost of childcare.
For an infant, the average annual cost of childcare can take quite a chunk out of a family’s income. Last year, such care at a center cost $4,600 in Mississippi and almost $15,000 in Massachusetts.
Nuri Funes, who runs the Bright Star Family Daycare center in Silver Spring, Maryland, sums up the dilemma, noting that a maddening “circle for everybody” has developed: Unemployed parents pull children out of childcare but then are impeded in hunting for a new job precisely because their child is home.
Five other reasons too many women find themselves caught in this circle, says Bloomberg:
1. Childcare isn’t cheap. According to the Arlington, Virginia-based Child Care Aware of America, the average cost of center-based care for an infant is more than 10 percent of a middle class family’s income.
2. For some families, childcare can cost more than a mortgage and other payments, to the point that parents realize they spend so much money on childcare as to make their salary irrelevant. Bloomberg quotes Denise Rohan-Smith, who has been providing home childcare in Missoula, Montana for some 30 years: “What’s the point of working, being away from your children, for 30, 40, 50 hours a week if you really don’t have anything to show for it besides a stack of bills?”
3. States started cutting childcare subsidies when the 18-month recession began in December 2007. Funding for childcare assistance has fallen by 6.8 percent from fiscal 2007 to fiscal 2010.
4. Women hold 9 out of 10 jobs in the childcare industry, according to data from the US Census Bureau. So, lower demand for childcare is contributing to unemployment for women.
5. Some recent demographic data suggests why the demand for childcare may remain limited. The birthrate in the US is falling: In 2011, there were 3.96 million births, a decline for the fourth year in a row since it was at an all-time high of 4.32 million births in 2007. There is a record-high number of grandparents — some 74 million — in the US; they make informal childcare arrangements much more likely.
Indeed, of the infants and toddlers in my neighborhood, quite a few are cared for full-time by grandparents. The children’s parents have noted that they have or are considering childcare but are wary, with cost a significant factor.
Childcare, Choices, Careers
My autistic son Charlie is 15 years old. He goes to school all day but absolutely can never be left alone; my husband and I are both professors and can set up our schedules and work from home on some days. If not, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t be able to hold down a full-time academic position.
Even in such positions, women have to make choices. I’ll never forget the moment when, at an English department meeting at another New Jersey university that I used to work for, an assistant professor on the tenure track stood up and announced that she was resigning. The cost of childcare took up a huge percentage of her salary, she said, plus she had realized that, even when she was not on campus teaching and advising students, she would need hours and hours to complete research to qualify for tenure and promotion. Reading books to her children and spending time with them in their young years just seemed the better, and certainly more economical, solution.
I was not in a tenure-track position at the time, so my colleague’s decision resonated even more with me. I still remember the pained look on her face; she knew what she was giving up.
Women should not have to make such choices and lose their careers because the cost of childcare is too high. We can do far better to support women in the workplace, without having to give up so much.
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