Childcare Costs Push Mothers out of Workforce Nationwide


Within the cozy suburban confines of Auburn, Washington, Nicole Slemp savored the fulfillment and identity that sprouted from her role as a secretary for the state’s Child Services Department. As she deftly and compassionately handled family cases entangled in distress, she found an engaging work life flourishing within the quiet humility of a cubicle. It was all about to change, however.

Nicole carried expectations of returning to her treasured work after the birth of her son in August. However, her calculations for managing work and baby care started to crumble as she explored childcare options. The best in line rallied up to approximately $2000 a month, making her income look miserably inadequate. The cheapest alternatives, costing around $1600 a month, would nibble away most of her salary. Their combined income, inclusive of her husband’s earnings from a hose distribution company, disqualified them for any government aid.

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“My job was something I didn’t want to part ways with,” expresses Slemp, now a 33-year-old stay-at-home mom. Strained by circumstances, she found herself incapacitated with no other choice.

Slemp’s predicament resonates within numerous households across the United States. With a persistent, hearty demand for quality childcare and limited government assistance, the availability and affordability of daycare programs have reached a critical state. A sobering statistic outlines that in 2022, around one in every ten young children bore witness to a parent’s retreating career due to child care issues. The burden predominantly falls over mothers, the primary caregivers, who are more often constrained to bid goodbye to their jobs for raising kids.

Women’s workforce participation, which astoundingly bounced back to historic heights post-pandemic in December 2023, belies a growing crisis. Employment gaps are widening between mothers who wield a four-year degree and those who don’t. It underscores how a day of no work for mothers without college degrees is a day of no pay – a precarious and distorted work-life equation. They are less likely to avail paid leave, and any disruption to their childcare arrangements threatens them with the unavoidable burden of relinquishing a job. This reality sprang out from an analysis of Census survey data, conducted collaboratively by The Associated Press and the Education Reporting Collaborative.

On the flip side of the equation, even college degree holders haven’t escaped the upheaval caused by soaring child care costs. The story of Jane Roberts, a teacher who resorted to borrowing against her life insurance to tackle the financial strain, speaks volumes about the issue’s gravity.

The crisis spirals further down for single mothers like Adriane Burnett, who earns roughly $2800 a month but dedicates over a third of her pay for her three-year-old’s care.

Worlds away, a “Baby on Board” sticker adorns the Slemp family’s car parked in front of their home in Auburn, Washington. It’s a silent testament to the price that parents, like Nicole, pay due to the dire state of childcare. Mothers like Slemp and Burnett are far from the affluence-imbued image of a stay-at-home mom; they are the ones pushed out of employment due to childcare costs outweighing their income.

Although they remain individual stories echoing from separate parts of the nation, they form the collective grievances of a demographic riddled with hardships. An increasingly expensive and scarce child care landscape has been quietly but irrefutably pushing parents, especially mothers, towards unemployment. It’s made all the more poignant by the realization that the fate of millions of others mirrors Nicole Slemp’s experience. Perhaps Nicole puts it best when she says, “Our country is doing nothing to try to help fill that gap. We’re supposed to keep the population going, and they’re not giving us a chance to provide for our kids to be able to do that.”