America, you have so, so many things right. Capitalism. Freedom of speech. The American Dream.Mexican food. Starbucks. Target. <<sigh>> And yet you have so, so many things wrong.
The thing that my brain is picking away at tonight is daycare.
We have managed to send a man to the moon; we have managed to make Kim Kardashian a gazillionaire for absolutely no reason; we have managed to shove our entire life into a little box called the iPhone, YET we still HAVE NOT figured out how to keep daycare costs “normal.”
Today I was quoted $2,486 for full-time daycare for my 14-month old, my 3.5 year old, and my 4.5 year old. $2,486. After they offered me a $5 discount for the third child, that figure came down to $2,481. Another place quoted me $2,375. Another place $2,840. Another place $2,600. One place quoted me $2,000, and I had to ask the receptionist twice to repeat the figure, because it sounded so low. $2,000 sounded low.
Stop and look at those figures. If I were to take out a loan on a house worth $500,000 right now with the current low interest rates (and my good credit), my monthly mortgage payments would be in that range.
Credit Image: Moyan_Brinn on Flickr
It is beyond incomprehensible that daycare for three small children is the same as a mortgage payment for a $500,000 home. BEYOND INCOMPREHENSIBLE. While I’m sure that daycare centers in the United States are absolutely outstanding, these hefty price tags are absolutely ridiculous. And it still does not assure me (or anyone) that the same caregivers will be with my kid(s) from infancy until the pre-kindergarten years. In fact, from what I’ve read, daycares in the U.S. have a high turnover rate. It makes me sad for those children that become attached to their caregivers only to have them leave.
In Croatia, daycares are all government-subsidized. This means that the cost of daycare for two kids each month is less than your average car payment. More specifically, the cost of full-time daycare for two kids each month in Croatia is about 10% of the average Croatian national income for one person. If you happen to have three kids in daycare at the same time, the third child is free. Did I mention that breakfast, lunch, and snacks are all included in that price?
If we applied those same rules in the United States, it would mean that daycare for two kids full-time would cost only $250 (I used $30,000 as the “average national income for one person”). $250. For two kids. Full-time. If we add on the benefit of having the third child free if two are already enrolled, that means that it would cost $250 for three kids to go to daycare full-time.
Another great thing about the daycare system in Croatia is that they have it set up so that the caregivers rotate in five-year programs. So, let’s say your one-year-old Benjamin is currently in Miss Susan’s care. Miss Susan would care for little Benjamin until he was ready to move up to the next group (toddler) ... and the next group (preschooler) ... and she would keep moving with little Benjamin all the way up until he started kindergarten. It’s is an excellent system, because it ensures that the child has the same caregiver during all those vulnerable infant/toddler/preschooler years. It builds trust and security. Turnover rates in daycares in Croatia are practically nonexistant, so you’re almost guaranteed that little Benjamin will be with Miss Susan until it’s time to start school. It’s like having a second mom!
That’s pretty awesome.
While Croatia has maaaaaany things that it needs to reform, one thing where it can be a “role model” to a country like America is its daycare system -– in cost and in functionality. While I know a change won’t come over night in the U.S., I truly think we need to reevaluate how we have our birth-to-pre-kindergarten care system set up. If we pay real estate taxes that fund our elementary schools and high schools and colleges, why can’t we make like the Europeans and have the government fund the earliest of “schools,” aka daycare, preschool, etc.?
There will be some that disagree with subsidizing daycares and preschools. I understand that. Those same people probably disagree that maternity leave should be at least six months (wake up call: the U.S. is one of the ONLY countries in the world that doesn’t have a government-subsidized maternity leave of at least 6 months). But there needs to be change. We all say we value family, yet we allow this awful system to be in place. Some people hire illegal immigrants to work in their home because they can’t afford a daycare center. Some couples have one parent stay at home because it’s not financially plausible to send their children to daycare. The worst part is that it’s not just people who are living at the poverty level who are doing this -– it’s American families whose incomes reflect their college education that are doing this. This is NOT normal –- something needs to change!
Where do we go from here? What can be done to ensure that our children aren’t going through this same nightmare 30 years from now? Whatever your stance, I think we can all agree that daycare costs should NOT be equivalent to a mortgage payment on a $500,000 home. Period.