Monday, August 19, 2013

Crushed By the Costs of Daycare. And Who Is To Pay Them?

The title of a post on the New York Times Opinionator blog.  It's a good post, pointing out the great difficulty of finding and affording good-quality daycare.  It even talks about how this is a greater problem for poorer families.

But as Joan Walsh points out on the twitter, the story screws up by viewing daycare costs as something that one must deduct from the mother's salary in two-parent households.

Well, it's not really the story which screws that one up, it's us, the society, when we view the dilemma as having two solutions which are 1)  a stay-at-home-mother or 2) daycare.  Because these are the only visible options, the costs of daycare obviously should be compared to the mother's potential salary.

That makes some narrow logical sense if the mother earns less than the father.  But in at least one of the cases in the post the father earns less.  Yet even there the focus is on the mother:

Child care is a towering expense for parents like Carla Bellamy, a professor of anthropology at Baruch College in Manhattan who holds a Ph.D. from Columbia, earns $74,000 a year and lives with her husband and their two children, a newborn and a 4-year-old. Her husband is a composer and the executive director of a music organization. Only 9 percent of women in the work force make $75,000 or more, so Professor Bellamy is relatively privileged.
But even with a combined household income of $110,000, she and her husband struggle to afford day care. (It was a story I heard echoed when I spoke with other female professors, who sometimes took sick days even when they were healthy so they could stay home and not have to pay for baby sitters.) “Our entire disposable income goes to child care,” Professor Bellamy, 41, says. “It’s not a tragic story, but is tiring and tiresome. I have a career, I work really hard, and yet I get no break.”

Note that Mr. Bellamy's husband seems to earn about half of what she does, based on these figures.

And no, I'm not suggesting that Mr. Bellamy should clearly become a stay-at-home-father or anything of the sort, just pointing out that as long as we see daycare as one of the many so-called women's problems the solutions are going to be sought in that same narrow field.

Incidentally, even in the case where the lower-earning spouse is considering staying at home as the option to daycare, its costs should not just be deducted from her or his hypothetical paycheck when the financial consequences are judged.

This is because the decision to take time off from the labor force will have further financial repercussions.  The partner who takes the time off will earn less later and will end up with a smaller retirement income.  Thus, even in such narrow calculations the costs of daycare should be assessed within those lifetime consequences.