(NewsNation) — Since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, the cost of child care has been on the rise.
Parents are seeing an average annual cost increase of 41% for center-based child care providers, spending an average of just over $14,000 per year, according to data from a recent LendingTree report released earlier this year.
Cindy Lehnhoff, director of the National Child Care Association, discussed the skyrocketing cost of child care during an appearance on NewsNation “Prime.”
“During the pandemic and following the pandemic, we’ve seen everything rise in cost, which has to be put back to the consumer, unfortunately,” Lehnhoff said. “And as a result of the high cost of child care, many families are forced into unlicensed care.”
There is a big difference between licensed and unlicensed child care providers, according to Lehnhoff.
“The licensed child care industry is heavily regulated. And in every state, you are required to be licensed if you’re taking care of a number of children that are not related to you in a group setting,” she said. “And the cost of regulation has risen over the years because there’s a lot more expectation for the workforce to be educated and well-trained, which certainly we don’t object to. But it raises the cost.”
The licensed providers are more expensive and often out of reach for some families, who then turn to unqualified providers or they’re leaving the workforce to watch the kids themselves or have family members that are helping them.
“In some cases, parents are working different shifts, and taking care of the children,” Lehnhoff said. “And actually not even having any kind of family life because one parent working days, one parent is working nights, and there really isn’t time to function as a family unit. And that’s unfortunate because we know how important high-quality early care and education is.”
According to Lehnhoff, statistics from the Department of Labor show that over a million women have not returned to the workforce since leaving it during the pandemic, whether they left voluntarily to take care of their school-aged children and do the coaching or virtual learning or they were laid off.
“That’s a lot of women staying home,” she said. “And the availability of child care right now is limited, because our workforce was reduced by about 350,000 at the beginning of the pandemic because there wasn’t the need for it. And we have not had everyone return.”
It’s estimated that between 100,000 and 125,000 child care professionals and early educators have not returned to work following the pandemic, according to Lehnhoff.
There is also a difference between cities and rural areas when it comes to the availability and affordability of child care services.
“Even before the pandemic, about 51% of all children, between the ages of zero and 6 years lived in what is known as a child care desert,” Lehnhoff said.
That means there are more children in those age groups that need care while their parents work than there are spaces available.
“One of the reasons for this is the high cost of opening a child care center,” Lehnhoff said. “They can’t afford to open in those areas because the people that are living in those areas are typically your middle and lower-middle-class families and they can’t afford the cost of care.”