Why Rich Women Have Great, Low-Cost Childcare, And Poor Women Pay Out the Nose

You can thank regulations and licensing rules for pricing child care out of the reach of many lower-income families while leaving wealthier women with gray market or black market solutions.

ChildrenU.S. ArmyDaycare for an infant is now more expensive than the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges in 31 states, according to a recent report. Childcare in the U.S. sets a family back $15,000 a year per infant on average. It is more expensive than rent in 22 states. But while many poor women are dropping out of the workforce in part due to these costs, well-to-do families skirt the problem by exploiting loopholes like the U.S. au pair program and by illegally employing undocumented domestic workers to obtain good-quality childcare at below-market prices.

You can thank regulations and licensing rules for pricing child care out of the reach of many lower-income families while leaving wealthier women with gray market or black market solutions.

Despite the cost, almost half of children under five spend at least part of their week in the care of somebody other than a parent. Nearly 11 million children under age five are in some type of child care setting for an average of 35 hours. Few families remain unaffected by the cost of childcare.

High-cost, low-quality childcare options impact women differently depending on their income level. The Pew Research Center recently found that almost one-third of mothers are now stay-at-home parents, up from a 45-year low of 23 percent in 1999. Who are these mothers? According to recent studies,"Less-educated moms and those who live in in lower-income households are generally more likely to stay home with the kids than more-educated moms and or those who live in higher-income households."

While the Great Recession hit salaries, the cost of childcare has only grown, up 70 percent since the mid 1980s. It would seem that high childcare costs plus reduced employment opportunities and stagnant wages are incentivizing low-income women to drop out of the workforce entirely.

Moms who do work tend to choose jobs with shorter and more flexible hours. According to polling by the Working Mother Research Institute, "The majority of moms believe that a flexible work schedule is the most important benefit a workplace can provide."

But employers pay a premium to have workers who will work when needed. Research indicates that a huge chunk of the widely-cited 77-cents-on-the-dollar gender wage gap is a result of women's preference for shorter, flexible hours over better pay. Part of the reason moms need shorter, more flexible hours is that day care centers tend to close for weather and holidays, while work still needs to be done. The centers won’t care for sick children, and they charge dramatically more per hour outside of the 9-5 window. All this leads mothers to work shorter, more erratic hours, which contributes to why women without children earn much more than mothers in the United States.

The situation is costly, and not just for mothers. There's research evidence that access to decent day care increases productivity.

It makes sense to ask where all the money for childcare goes. It's certainly not going to overpay childcare workers. They earn less than parking lot attendants.

Perhaps some of the cost goes toward complying with all the regulations on care centers. Forty states require some kind of official training for childcare providers. And 33 states require directors to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or clock hours, credits, or earn a higher credential than a CDA in early childhood education, or to have an associate degree in early childhood education.

Thirty-eight states plus the Department of Defense require familiarity with relevant licensing regulations. Thirty-four states plus the DoD require training about the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (e.g., safe sleep positions for infants). In 42 states all childcare workers are required to obtain at least 12 hours per year of additional training. And 49 states require child care workers to plan learning activities for children.

Despite all these requirements, childcare in America is still of very low quality. A survey by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development deemed the majority of operations to be fair or poor, with just about 10 percent providing high-quality care.

While middle- and low-income women are dropping out and leaning back in response, upper-income women are opting out (of the legal childcare market) and relying instead on undocumented domestic help and au pairs.

A fascinating report by American University Associate Professor of Law Janie Chuang reveals how "the legal categorization of au pairs as ‘cultural exchange participants’ is strategically used to sustain—and disguise—a government-created domestic worker program to provide flexible, in-home childcare for upper-middle-class families at below-market prices."

And that’s just for families who skirt the law. Many more just flout it. More than a third of all domestic workers in the U.S. are non-citizens, and a substantial percentage of them are undocumented. Well-to-do families solve childcare problems by hiring and housing undocumented workers, working them more hours than is legal, and paying them under the table.

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  • Irish||

    I'm 90% sure that picture was taken moments before Puddles the Clown murdered all of those children.

  • Jim Bowie||

    You're just hatin on Puddles cause he's black......RAAAAAAAACIIIIIISSSSSSST

  • lap83||

    He does look like he's biding his time.

  • Neonbilli||

    This will make me sound like a fogey, but when I was a kid, day-care did not exist as it does today. I think that's in part because most mothers did not work. So, for whatever reason, today, with two-worker households, day-care has become just another family expense, like food or rent. Question: when people 'decide' to have a kid, do they ever think about whether or not they can afford it? I think not; most people just do it, and then crab later about the cost, or try to shift the cost on someone else (usually those with no kids). A lot of our social problems would be minimized today if people that can't afford to have kids DON'T HAVE THEM. (I realize that's probably a racist statement. Also sexist and homophobic.)

  • Homple||

    Who was the wicked capitalist who made homemaking uncool thereby enticing women onto the wage treadmill? We hear continuous bitching about declining wages from the same mouths that have hollered for 40 plus years that women should leave the house and suddenly double the number of people seeking jobs.

  • ||

    If I didn't know better I would think that having women in the workforce made us worse off. Of course it obviously did not. It was a reserve of untapped productive capacity that we were able to unleash.

  • Homple||

    It did put many families on a work, consumption and debt treadmill that lots of folks found to be unsustainable when the economy got creaky.

  • Libertarius||

    Quit being gay, women don't produce anything.

  • RJ The Terrible||

    You mean nearly doubling the workforce had a negative impact on wages?

  • Bryan C||

    Rising costs-of-living made it necessary for some, and social pressure from upper-class women who were virulently anti-housewife made it desirable even when the finances didn't make sense.

    After a while, there was a tipping point where the mutual neighborhood support networks for stay-at-home parents started to break down, which made it even harder for the holdouts. So then the government came along to help us by making sure that day care would be a highly regulated and expensive hassle.

    Now they want to formalize and re-enforce the expensive hassle by pretending babysitting is education, making it mandatory, and giving tired teacher's unions another source of taxpayer money to use for social engineering.

  • ceanf||

    Unfortunately, most do not. And i often come off as dick for pointing it out those who want federally funded childcare, aka the headstart program, and love buying unnecessary goods with their child deduction driven tax refunds. meanwhile those who do write a check to the government every year. and the worst part is, it is not a bug, but a feature of how this country works. the more you take, the more you get.

  • foodscientist||

    Unfortunately, HEAVY regulation of childcare has forced people to move to expensive day-care centers versus the classic, shadow-economy practice of hiring a neighbor for a relatively low-cost. We cannot overstate the costs of regulations on childcare, healthcare, and other necessary services.

  • Bryan C||

    Which, incidentally, means the day-care centers have to throw lots of kids together to make their industry economically viable. Making it much more likely that every child will get sick.

  • Brochettaward||

    So, oddly enough, what Romney said in his second debate about how he learned to provide flexible hours to his female employees was pretty accurate and in touch with what women want. Meanwhile, he was blasted by the media who used it to fuel the narrative that he was clueless about gender issues. Meanwhile, Obama talked about an executive order which had no practical benefit for women and which failed to address the much discussed pay gap (which the questioned referred to).

  • Duelles||

    We had 15-16 au pairs over the years for 3 kids. Was it worth it . You bet. I got them through word of mouth, paid the same as an agency, had a car available and a membership to the Y, and when we were home they were off " duty".
    As a carpenter and a secretary we were not rich, but aspired. For 5 years my wife's salary went to the au pair. I redid our basement and added a nice bathroom as their quarters. It was private and quiet for their down time.
    Ultimately, we increased our incomes and this allowed us a good middle class life. We allowed them friends from their home to visit and included them in our activities. Their purpose was to have a work experience before university and to speak and understand English better.
    In 2008 we went Denmark, Germany ( east and west) Belgium with side trips to UK, Czeh Rep.visiting these au pairs and their friends who visited us. We were gone 4 1/2 months and, yes, it was great. These men and women were the brave ones striking out, taking a chance. The now have families, and jobs that in some cases far exceed what we were able to accomplish.
    Our family made international friends and this enriched our lives. Illegal? Sure. Treated fairly? Absolutely. Of course I can never run for elective office. . . . Lucky me. Retired early with the help of well paid au pairs.

  • Virginian||

    Personally I think many wives don't like the idea of a nubile foreign girl living in the same house as their husband. Plus most Americans are uncomfortable with live in domestic help nowadays. Which is silly if you ask me, and I work in after school youth services.

  • Copernicus||

    There's always Mrs. Doubtfire.

  • ||

    And Mr. Mom.

  • Mr. Soul||

    and Mrs. Featherbottom.

  • SusanM||

    Shikia have the day off? Usually, harping on the need for Mexican domestics is her territory. Or is Reisenwitz the cheap immigrant replacement?

  • Lady Bertrum||

    This article assumes poor and working class parents/women don't access a black market for childcare. They do, same as wealthy people. Day care is a service for the middle class. The rich use au pairs or nannies, and the poor use relatives, neighbors, or illegal day care.

  • Homple||

    Odd how the previously normal ways of watching kids got turned into "black market childcare".

  • Vulgar Madman||

    Well, you can't just have people doing things without permission.

  • RJ The Terrible||

    Just think of what that could lead to

  • Stoic||

    I don't see the problem with au pairs. I was an exchange student in high school and considered being an au pair after I graduated. Never ended up doing it, but for me it would have been similar to being an exchange student except I would be babysitting instead of going to school, and I'd get paid.

    Also, au pairs are not necessarily cheaper than day care, especially if it's just for one kid. For 2 or more kids, then yeah, it usually is cheaper. But I live in an area where day care is cheap, and even 2 kids in full-time day care would be less than the cost of an au pair. The au pairs doesn't make much, but you have to pay a lot to the agency that places them. The people I know who use au pairs do it because they have work schedules that don't conform to traditional day care schedules, or in one case the child had health issues that made group day care a bad idea.

  • Lady Bertrum||

    I was a nanny for two years 1995-1996. I earned $250 per week (off the books) and got room and board in NYC. It was a very good deal.

  • Suellington||

    Damn, that sucks to be babysit by a clown.

  • thorax232||

    If you don't have the ability to take care of your children to include not paying a stranger to do your parenting for you, don't have children.

  • LarryA||

    You don't want to collect your Social Security and Medicare, do you?

  • LarryA||

    First, eliminate costly and useless state-level daycare regulations. Most have zero impact on actual improvements in safety or quality, and exist mainly to limit competition for existing licensed centers and caretakers.

    Not So! Every one of those regulations was written to benefit children and their parents! Sez so on the Label!

    My twin grandkids are lucky, in that my daughter and son-in-law have his mother living with them. So it's 3 on 2 watching over them, two salaries and her retirement funding things, and we provide handmade clothes and other such. But it's still a stretch at times.

  • Carolynp||

    Our youngest got a rare disease, and we found ourselves honestly discussing dropping him off at daycare so I could get a meeting in before they realized he was too sick to be there. Just the fact we were having the discussion reminded us that our priorities were out of balance. I gave notice the next day and neither of us has regretted it. Once they were elementary age, I began homeschooling them. When they were in fifth and third grade, they tested in twelfth grade on the standardized tests. To me it seems the real discussion we will have is when libs realize our homeschooled kids are far outdistancing their kids and there is a demand to "standardize" what we are doing, which, like healthcare, will equate to "If our kids can't learn anything, neither can yours."

  • LarryA||

    "If you want to keep your lesson plan you can keep your lesson plan."

  • buybuydandavis||

    "And 33 states require directors to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or clock hours, credits, or earn a higher credential than a CDA in early childhood education, or to have an associate degree in early childhood education."

    An official government licensed rent seeker profiting off poor mothers and childcare workers. Anyone want to guess what party these government empowered parasites overwhelmingly vote for?

  • ||

    Second, even the playing field for domestic help by relaxing immigration restrictions and offering paths to citizenship for domestic workers.

    Lol. Umm...

    Since THE ENTIRE FUCKING ADVANTAGE of undocumented workers comes from the fact that they are undocumented and hence able to dodge the jackboot of the regulatory state, how in the actual fuck will bringing them into compliance with the regulatory state make domestic help more affordable or accessible? The solution is to "even the playing field" by doing away with the labor restrictions and price floors that price everybody except illegal immigrants out of the market in the first place. Bringing illegal immigrants up to parity on wages and regulations will have precisely the opposite effect.

  • Weygand||

    I'm sure the reporter did her legwork for the article but I have to call BS on this. Many women or "low income families" receive multiple subsidies for daycare.

    Then there are the overwhelming numbers of unmarried women who live with the biological father but to the state they are a single mother so they receive subsidies and generous tax rebates while their baby daddy works for FEDEX under the table. Yet they are the first to whine about fair shares. A couple of my wife's co-workers have perfected this technique and if I didnt know them both to be blue chip hot cock sluts, we wouldnt invite them to our pool parties.

  • ||

    "First, eliminate costly and useless state-level daycare regulations. Most have zero impact on actual improvements in safety or quality, and exist mainly to limit competition for existing licensed centers and caretakers."

    No kidding.

  • straffinrun||

    Without those regs the daycare centers would become Gap sweatshops. We need the elites to eliminate necessity for judgement.

  • ibcbet||

    The rich use au pairs or nannies, and the poor use relatives, neighbors, or illegal day care.

  • sgtipster||

    Obama talked about an executive order which had no practical benefit for women and which failed to address the much discussed pay gap

  • REMant||

    Childcare, like assisted living for the elderly, is just another manifestation of the growth of divided labor in modern society, which likely has roots in the never-ending attempt to replace labor with capital of some sort as inflationary monetary and fiscal policies make us ever poorer.

  • Rinza Rajpoot||

    Usually, harping on the need for Mexican domestics is her territory. Or is Reisenwitz the cheap immigrant replacement?
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