How Does Childcare Cost Affect Single-Parent Families?

By Daisy Peasblossom Fernchild
Good childcare means socialization and learning opportunities.
Good childcare means socialization and learning opportunities.

Childcare costs are a vital part of budget planning for a single parent family. If the parent hopes to get a job and keep it, the child must be in a secure place while the parent is at work. Furthermore, quality childcare can enhance the child's mental and emotional well-being, and contribute to his readiness for school. Unfortunately, quality childcare is expensive and consumes a large chunk of any working parent's income.

The Ideal Budget

Although personal finance recommendations can vary, common recommendations are that parents should spend about 35 percent of their budget on housing, 10 percent on savings, 15 percent on debt repayment, 15 percent on transportation, and 25 percent on life. Housing costs include rent, mortgage and utilities. Transportation includes gas, oil, repairs and insurance for a car. Life is just about everything else, including childcare expense. The ideal is very different from the reality faced by most single-parent families.

Single Parent Demographics

Single parenthood seems to be on the rise in the United States. About 40 percent of mothers age 30 and younger are single parents, according to Single Mother Guide, and The New York Times reported the same statistic, adding that nearly two thirds of children born in the United States are born to mothers under 30. In many cases, the young women had one or two years of college, but did not have a degree. Young women who graduate from college with a degree are more likely to wait until after marriage to have children. Custodial single-father households increased by 60 percent in the last 10 years.

The Reality

As of 2013, childcare costs range from around $4,000 per year to as high as $15,000 per year, depending upon location and quality of the care services, according to USA Today. Minimum wage can be as low $4.00 an hour in some areas. These figures work out to a probable income of $8,000 per year. Even if the family lives an area in which childcare costs around $4,000 per year, this means that the single parent is spending about half of her income on childcare.

Financial Implications

Many of the women having children are under-prepared for the workforce, and therefore work positions that pay minimum wage or only slightly above minimum. Single fathers also must cope with childcare issues. However, census records indicate that a greater majority of the male single parents have jobs that pay well. Census records also indicate that the women who graduate from college tend to marry men who also hold a degree. Their marriages seem to have greater longevity and stability, and two professional incomes are supporting the family. Children from these marriages have an economic advantage over children from single parent families.

The Bottom Line

Children need care while their parent is working. Low-income families have a difficult time affording quality childcare. Sometimes, single parents must leave their children with a succession of family members and friends so that the single parent can work. For better-educated and better-paid single parents, quality childcare can make up the developmental deficit that might occur when parents have to shuffle children from one care situation to another. Regardless of marital status, working parents spend a large amount of their income on childcare. In many cases, childcare costs can equal or exceed rental costs, and can add up to enough money to pay for a four-year college degree by the time a child enters kindergarten.

About the Author

Daisy Peasblossom Fernchild has been writing for over 50 years. Her first online publication was a poem entitled "Safe," published in 2008. Her articles specialize in animals, handcrafts and sustainable living. Fernchild has a Bachelor of Science in education and a Master of Arts in library science.