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Nationwide Child Care Poll: Child Care Costs Impact Families’ Employment, Savings, and Future Planning

A new BPC/Morning Consult poll finds that most American families with children under 5 have had to make significant changes to their budgets to afford child care. The availability of quality, affordable child care has also proved a barrier to parents remaining in the workforce, seeking a job if they don’t currently have one, or saving for emergencies and retirement.

Despite the steady economy and low unemployment levels, parents are struggling to afford one of the most significant and critical expenses in their family budget: child care. That’s the conclusion of a new poll conducted for the Bipartisan Policy Center by Morning Consult surveying parents with young children nationwide who currently pay for child care to identify how finding, keeping, and paying for child care impacts their lives, their finances, and their future planning. The survey also asked parents about their preferences around an ideal child care arrangement for their needs as a way for parents to respond in an open-ended capacity about what they seek in a child care provider.

The poll was conducted from October 11-17, 2019, among a national sample of 800 parents of children under the age of 5 currently paying for child care and have a household member who is employed. The interviews were conducted online. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The clear findings quantified what many parents around the country already know—finding affordable and reliable child care is a “must-have” in that it is critical for a parent’s involvement in the workforce, but it also forces parents to make several financial decisions and trade-offs, and significantly impacts their future family and financial planning. While parents have difficulty acquiring child care within their budget, they also said that the most important attributes of a child care provider are safety, reliability, and quality. The survey also confirmed that low-income parents are disproportionally impacted by the cost of child care both in their budgeting and in their ability to participate in the workforce.

Parents and their experiences must inform research and policymaking, both at the state and federal level, and their voices must be at the forefront of every aspect of this effort. BPC is pleased to share this information, as it shares experiences directly from working parents paying for child care. We believe it should be a guiding light to inform how policy and decision makers work to help working parents find and pay for child care that fits their needs in the communities they live in.

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Key Survey Findings:

>> Finding child care significantly impacts a parent’s ability to find a job, keep that job, and work longer hours to support their family <<

Being able to find child care impacts parent’s—particularly a mother’s—ability to stay in the workforce.

  • Over two-thirds of parents said child care affected their ability to stay in the workforce (68%) and work more hours (66%).
  • Women (45%) are more likely than men (33%) to say finding a child care provider had a lot of an impact on staying in the workforce.
  • 30% of parents said they’ve reduced their hours to afford child care expenses
  • 20% of parents said they have quit a job to stay at home with a child in order to afford child care expenses

On average, about a quarter of parents said that finding child care had a lot of an impact on their job search or on improving their education or skills.

  • The impacts are much greater for low-income parents: One in three parents who made under $50,000 a year said child care impacted their job search or improving education and skills a lot, compared to one in four who made above $100,000 annually.

Having affordable child care affects the amount parents are working

  • About a third of parents (35%) said finding a child care provider had a lot of an impact on their ability to work more hours; this was practically the same between mothers and fathers, but more pronounced for low-income households (46%)
  • A majority of parents have worked overtime (55%) in order to afford child care expenses.
  • Two in five parents (42%) have changed jobs to have more flexible work hours to afford child care

>> Parents say it is difficult to find quality care within their budget <<

  • Half of parents (54%) say it was difficult to find quality child care within their budget, including 18% who say it was very difficult
  • There is a direct correlation with income levels. Parents with lower incomes are more likely to say it was difficult to find quality child care with their budget (61% of those making under $50,000 responded as such compared to 45% of those making above $100,000)
  • Parents living in rural communities are more likely to be paying less for child care than those in urban and suburban communities

>> Parents make several financial and lifestyle changes to afford child care, such as reducing the amount they are saving for emergencies and spending on every-day purchases <<

In order to afford child care, a majority of parents have reduced spending on non-essential (75%) and every-day purchases (59%), delayed or decrease money saved for emergencies (57%), and relied on family/friends for child care (56%).

If parents had more disposable income, they would prioritize saving for emergencies (57%), saving for retirement (46%), and making major purchases (39%) or everyday essentials (35%). A quarter said they would pay off student loans, while almost 20 percent said they would have more children.

>> Parents rely heavily on family members or friends to help with child care <<

  • 56% of parents said they relied on grandparents, family members, or friends for child care
  • Additionally, almost 20% of parents said they receive financial assistance from a family member or relative to help with child care expenses
  • 23% of parents said they moved to be closer to grandparents, family members, or friends in order to help afford child care

When asked, parents find the following the most important aspects of a child care provider: safety, trustworthy, quality, caring and qualified staff, and reliability

Parents prefer child care closer to their home, and most parents do drive to child care.

  • Parents prefer their child care is closer to their home (60%) than their school or job (27%)
  • More parents making over $100,000 are able to find child care closer to their home compared with those making under $50,000 (41% compared to 30%)

>> The cost of child care influences parents’ decision to have more children <<

  • Among parents who do not intend to have a child in the future for financial reasons, about three in four (72%) say child care costs significantly influenced the decision to not have a child in the future. Another 14% said it was part of the decision
  • 18% of parents say they would prioritize having more children if they had additional disposable income
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