EdSource poll: Child care and preschool costs force parents to make difficult tradeoffs

February 15, 2017

Teacher Audra Clark with Giovanni Flores (l) and Jude Beaudoin at a North Bay Children's Center Preschool in Petaluma.

The high cost of child care and preschool is placing a financial strain on California families and has forced many parents of young children to make difficult tradeoffs regarding work and family life, including choosing lower quality programs or even leaving the workforce altogether.

These are among the findings of an EdSource survey of 640 parents in California with children 5 years old and younger. The representative poll was conducted last summer by phone and online survey by the polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3).  The margin of error for the overall sample  is +/- 3.8% at the 95% confidence level.

Nearly half (47 percent) of California families with young children said a parent left the job market to address child care needs. One in 10 said they were either encouraged to leave a job or fired because of the demands child care placed on their schedule.

Go to end of story to read about parents’ struggles to cover their child care and preschool costs. 

During the presidential campaign, President Donald Trump put forward a plan he said would “help every family with the costs of child care.” But it is too early to know the extent to which he will promote his plan, what it would consist of, or if it would receive support in Congress. In California, after several years of increases, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2017-18 budget does not include any additional state-supported child care slots. In fact, Brown proposed postponing adding 3,000 more slots that had been slated for the coming fiscal year.

Findings of the EdSource survey, which was underwritten by the Heising-Simons Foundation, include the following:

Most parents spend more than 10 percent of income on child care or preschool: About 7 in 10 (72 percent) of California parents surveyed who have young children in child care or preschool said they spend more than 10 percent of their incomes to cover the costs of these programs. And 45 percent of these parents said they spend between 10 percent and 30 percent of their incomes on child care or preschool. Of parents with children in a child care or preschool program, 34 percent said they pay $1,000 a month or more for child care, and 29 percent pay that amount for preschool.

Child care costs influence decisions on having children: More than 4 in 10 parents (43 percent) indicated that they chose to delay having another child because of concerns about the overall costs of raising a child, of which paying for child care and preschool is a significant part.

Child care costs make it difficult to save: Only one-third of parents (33 percent) said they were “always” or “very often” able to save money after they covered their living expenses each month. Another third (34 percent) said they are rarely or never able to save. The situation was especially challenging for parents who spend more than 30 percent of their income on child care. Of those parents, only 14 percent said they could save “always” or “very often.”

High costs of early childhood programs affect parents’ decisions about location and quality of programs: More than one-third (36 percent) of those polled said they chose a child care or preschool program that was less conveniently located than they would have preferred because it was more affordable. One in four (26 percent) said they had placed their child in what they felt was a lower quality child care or preschool program because it was one they could afford.

High California housing costs place additional burdens on parents: In many parts of the country, child care costs are parents’ biggest expense. However, in California, parents have the additional burden of paying for high housing costs. The vast majority of parents (74 percent) said housing was their biggest monthly household cost. Nearly half of parents (45 percent) who do not provide their own child care ranked child care costs as one of their biggest expenses or as a major expense.

The burden of child care costs varies geographically in the state: Where a parent lives has a major impact on the costs of early childhood programs. Four in 10 (41 percent) of parents in the San Francisco Bay Area cite child care and preschool costs as one of their biggest expenses or a major expense, followed by 31 percent of those in Los Angeles County. That compares with 23 percent of parents in counties surrounding Los Angeles.

A large number of parents take care of children themselves during the week: Nearly half of parents (45 percent) say they or another parent or guardian take care of children themselves. And 61 percent of parents say they or another parent or guardian take care of their children for at least part of the work week during daytime hours.

High-income families are more likely to list child care or preschool as a major expense: Nearly twice as many families (43 percent) with incomes of $120,000 or more a year list child care and preschool as one of their biggest expenses or a major expense, compared to families with incomes of $60,000 or less per year (22 percent). Half of parents (50 percent) with incomes of $120,000 or more say they spend $1,000 or more on child care or preschool, and 20 percent say they spend more than $2,000 a month. By comparison, 10 percent of parents with incomes of $60,000 or less say they spend more than $1,000 a month, and 3 percent say they spend more than $2,000 monthly.

Half of Latinos say child care places a financial strain on families: Latino families are more likely to say that child care and preschool costs place a great deal or some strain on their families (50 percent), compared to white families (35 percent).

Parents feel they are getting their money’s worth: An encouraging finding was that despite the costs, nearly three-quarters of parents (72 percent) said they felt that the quality of care their child was receiving was worth what they paid for it. This is especially relevant because just over half of parents (56 percent) believe that the quality of their child’s child care or preschool program will have a major impact on their child’s success in life.

Parents want additional state support to cover early childhood programs: Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of parents said California should do more to provide opportunities for young children to attend preschool. Nearly 7 in 10 (68 percent) of parents supported increasing the sales tax on sweetened beverages or tobacco products to pay for expanded early childhood programs. But far fewer support raising property taxes (27 percent) or income taxes (32 percent) for all California residents to do so.

For more details on the poll, go here.


Contributed by:  EdSource reporters Justin Allen, Sue Frey, and Fermin Leal

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