KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Inflation is increasing the price of just about everything, including childcare. It’s one of the most expensive things in an American family’s budget and it’s only getting worse.
New research from United WE, an organization in Kansas City that works to empower and strengthen women, showed in Kansas, infant care at daycare centers is 1.3 times as expensive as in-state college tuition.
The numbers are very similar in Missouri.
“The cost is just prohibitive, because I was working to pay for daycare and not actually bringing home any money after I paid for daycare,” Jessica Combs, a mother of two and owner of Country Club Kids Daycare in Miami County, Kansas, said.
The main problem right now is supply is not meeting demand. Many childcare facilities and in-home day-cares closed during the pandemic and have no plans to reopen.
It’s exacerbating an already strained system.
Combs says she struggled with trying to pay for childcare for her two young boys.
“We were paying $350 a week for both kiddos, and that was with a sibling discount and it was cheap for Johnson County,” Combs said. “I think we were quoted $355 a week for one child at a center.”
That was one of the reasons Combs made the decision to open up her own in-home daycare. She moved to Miami County, started a farm and opened up Country Club Kids Daycare.
“I thought daycare would be a good way to stay home and also make a little bit of money,” Combs said. “I don't make a whole lot, but it pays some of the bills.”
She says that’s one of the big misconceptions in the conversation surrounding childcare, that people think childcare providers are making it unnecessarily expensive.
“I'm not actually getting rich by any means,” Combs said. “I wish!”
There are a lot of expenses that come with running a daycare. Combs says she has to pay for licensing fees, background checks, continued education, utilities, food costs and more.
Factoring in all of those costs, she says she’s making less than minimum wage.
“I did the math. Before anything is taken out, each pays me $2.30 an hour. That’s how much I’m getting paid by each family. I only have four families,” Combs said. “Take out all the added expenses, it’s $6.75 an hour that I’m actually keeping and I work on average 60 hours a week.”
She says inflation is just making it worse.
“I unfortunately just had to raise my rates a little bit because everything is just getting so costly,” Combs said. “Like we just got our utility bills and I was stunned at how much it has gone up since last year.”
From Combs’ perspective, having been on both sides, it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone involved and the research agrees.
“We heard that it's not uncommon that childcare on a month-by-month basis exceeds mortgage payments," Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of United We said. "So, it's a real challenge that so many families are having to address."
Doyle says the effects of this are even further reaching. When families are making decisions about what to do about childcare, it often results in one parent staying home for the kids.
As a result, Doyle says that decision disproportionately impacts women.
“When women step out of the workforce, we know that is one signal and one step that already starts to create the pay divide between women and men,” Doyle said. “So that's one step where it creates inequities, especially when women want to re-enter the workforce.”
Doyle says this is an issue that is going to require some creative childcare solutions, and some cooperation from employers, to keep women in the workplace.
She says she’s heard from some companies that are creating childcare facilities within their companies, and others that are providing childcare stipends for their employees.
But, Doyle says more needs to be done.
“It's a long term strategy that will need to be in play,” Doyle said. “It's a marathon, not a sprint to solve the problem.”
In the meantime, families are struggling.
“I know that it’s expensive,” Combs said. “I know it's hard. I know people have bills, you know everybody's fallen on hard times and it's just not been a great couple of years.”
More data is available in United WE's The Status of Women in Kansas report.