Why Child Care Is So Expensive


Child care is a topic of daily discussion in my house. Since my son was born my wife and I have been delicately navigating the complex and muddy waters of his care, trying to figure out the best solution for our family. We often say one of the best decisions we’ve made for our son was meeting a nanny who truly loves and cares for him. Mind you, finding her was by no means due to a diligent process that yielded many options. Finding our nanny was a combination of good luck, active listserv scouting and some fortuitous timing. Finding childcare in the US for infants and toddlers is harder than it should be. For a new parent it is often a harrowing experience. There are a plethora of options - one parent stays home, day care, nanny, grandparents, au pair et. al - each with their pros and cons, fears of the worst persisting in the back of your mind. The fact that the first few years seem to be the most important ones make the decision around care seem all the more daunting. 

Neuroscientists and psychologists have established that the first five years of a child’s life are crucial for the development of logic and language skills. Early education has profound effects on both these cognitive skills and “noncognitive” skills, such as grit, teamwork, and emotional health. But these academic findings haven’t translated to policy, at least not in the U.S.

During the early months of our son’s life, the task of finding care felt too daunting to tackle alone. Why is it so hard in the US to figure out quality child care? The fact that one needs to get on a waitlist for daycares in San Francisco 6 months before the child is born makes no sense to me. I even kicked around the idea about starting a company in the space with a friend of mine, Bright Horizons 2.0 or figuring out a way to get employers to pay for child care as a benefit, before coming to my senses. 

There is a deep disconnect in the way the U.S. conceives of its obligation to children. Most Americans accept—even demand—the public subsidy of education from the moment kids turn 5 and enter kindergarten to the day they graduate from a state university or community college. But from birth to the fifth birthday, children are on their own—or, more precisely, their parents are. This arrangement is plainly weird: Parents must bear the highest burdens of child-rearing when they are younger, typically poorer, and less established in their career.

There needs to be a better way to solve child care in the US. How remains to be seen.


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