How child care in New York became unaffordable for almost everyone

Shortly after Crystal Springs started her new job at a large Midtown Manhattan insurance company earlier this year, she realized that a much larger portion of her salary than expected was going directly to childcare children of his 5 year old daughter.

Mrs. Springs had dreamed that this job, which allowed her and her husband to earn about $200,000 a year together, would help provide a comfortable, middle-class life for her family in Ozone Park, Queens. But as the bills mounted and her daughter’s usual days off turned into emergencies, she felt stuck. Exasperated, she left the job she had fought so hard for.

Around the same time, in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx, Doris Irizarry was struggling to maintain the daycare she ran from her home. Expenses increased each month, and she said she only made about $3 an hour for each of the six children who attended the school. It finally closed permanently this summer after 25 years.

“This industry is going to die,” she said. “We cannot survive without our parents, and parents cannot survive without us. We are a unit.

In a notoriously stratified city experiencing its worst affordability crisis in decades, the skyrocketing cost of child care is one of the few issues that connects working families of all geographic backgrounds, races and social classes.

All but the wealthiest New Yorkers — even the upper middle class and especially mothers — are struggling to afford the care that will allow them to keep their jobs. Median prices for almost every type of child care in New York have increased since 2017, depending on the state provider surveys. Montessori preschool programs can cost more than $4,000 a month in affluent neighborhoods, and working-class families stretch their budgets to pay at least $2,000 a month for daycare.

And workers who provide child care are reeling from high costs and leaving the sector. Many earn just above minimum wage, leaving them barely able to afford to stay in New York or pay for care of their own children.

Interviews with more than three dozen parents, nannies, child care providers and experts revealed a potentially devastating crisis for New York City’s future. In recent years, only the astronomical cost of housing has been a bigger barrier for working families than the cost of child care, experts say.

A New York City family would need to earn more than $300,000 a year to meet the federal affordability standard — which recommends that child care make up no more than 7 percent of total household income — to pay the care of a single young child. In reality, a typical urban family spends more than a quarter of its income to pay for this care, according to the US Department of Labor.

Although families and healthcare providers across the country face the same issues, few cities face accessibility problems as profound as New York. In a city where a second income is virtually necessary for most families, skyrocketing costs are straining a patchwork child care system made up of daycares in family homes, preschool and after-school sites in buildings public schools and nannies working in private apartments.

“If people can’t go to work knowing that your child is safe, and without breaking the bank to do it, then people can’t be here,” said Richard R. Buery Jr., executive director of the Foundation Robin Hood. , a charity focused on fighting poverty in New York. “If people can’t be here, they can’t pay taxes, and if people can’t be here, employers won’t be here. »

More than half of New York City families spend more than they can afford on child care, including both low- and high-income families, a study finds. recent study by Mr. Buery’s organization.

The long-term consequences for the city’s health are only beginning to be felt, but it is clear that the economic cost is considerable. Parents leaving New York or reducing their work hours due to child care cost the city $23 billion in 2022, according to the city office. Economic Development Corporation.

New York is losing families with young children. Between 2019 and the end of 2022, there was a significant drop in the number of families with children under 5 living in the city, according to a recent analysis by researchers at the New School. Data showed that Black families in particular left in significant numbers, citing concerns about affordability. The city has also seen a sharp decline in the public school population.

Brittany Dietz and her husband had no plans to leave when they started looking for day care near their home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. They considered hiring a nanny or sharing a nanny with another family to reduce costs. Ms Dietz, who works in advertising, was unimpressed by the options, some of which would have amounted to a second rent. The cost of raising a child in New York helped persuade her and her husband to recently move to Cleveland, Ms. Dietz’s hometown.

There, she found six daycares near their new home, all with room for her 18-month-old, and chose one that cost about $50 a day. Moving, she says, “opened up a world of possibilities” for her family.

“Nothing really makes you leave town until you have a child,” she said. “If we could have made it work, we probably would have stayed.” »

The costs of care have increased as supply has contracted.

The problems that have has long plagued the industry High employee turnover and worker shortages caused by stubbornly low wages and supply lagging behind parent demand have only become more acute in the wake of the pandemic.

Some workers have migrated to other low-wage sectors that have been able to raise wages in recent years, and parents are increasingly feeling pressured by costs.

The city has lost at least a third of its educators since the start of the pandemic, and more than half of those remaining qualify for childcare subsidies for their own children. The median industry hourly rate in the city is just $16.78, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and homeworkers earn just $10.61 an hour. A quarter of the city’s educators Living in povertyand the vast majority are women of color.

The yawning salary disparities between public school educators and teachers have been a problem for the last two municipal administrations.

Ms. Hochul added $500 million to the latest state budget to provide bonuses for child care staff and help bolster the centers’ recruiting efforts, as well as $100 million to expand child care services. child care in areas where there are few options, and set aside nearly $16 million to add new child care centers on city and state college campuses.

And Mr. Adams’ administration has used public child care funding to provide subsidized vouchers that significantly reduce the cost of care for about 22,000 low-income children, a small fraction of the half million young children in the city. Starting next month, families of four must earn less than $100,000 a year to qualify and must demonstrate they need child care because they are working or pursuing employment or education.

But experts say none of those efforts have addressed the central problem of extremely low wages for child care workers. Beyond raising pay rates, they said, the city and state could fully fund child care for 3-year-olds, ensure providers are paid on time and give them more training, and make it easier for New Yorkers to open daycares. including in their homes, thanks to tax credits and property tax reductions.

In interviews, several parents whose combined household income was $200,000 a year or more said that nannies or daycare were the second largest part of their monthly budget, after rent or mortgage. Many said they weren’t sure if they would stay in the city if they had a second child, especially those who didn’t have family nearby to help with babysitting.

A family making more than $400,000 began considering leaving the city after finding a daycare in their Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood that would cost more than $4,700 a month for one of their children to attend on time full in fall 2024.

Load has been particularly hard on mothers, many of whom reported reducing their work hours, changing jobs to have more flexibility to work remotely or staring in disbelief at budget spreadsheets that showed well over half — and in some cases almost the entirety – of their net monthly salary paid to babysitters or daycares.

“I found myself apologizing for having to be a mother,” Ms Springs, the Queen’s mother, who is now expanding her business as a solicitor, said of her time at the insurance company.

Her first week in the role coincided with her daughter’s school break, and she felt her boss’s growing frustration as she continued to request to work from home.

Some child care providers said they were deeply sympathetic to the parents they served and created sliding scale programs for some families who struggled to afford child care.

Silvia Reyes, a full-time nanny, made $19 an hour working for one family when she started eight years ago. Since then, everything in her life has become more expensive, even as she has become the sole financial support for her mother, her teenage brother and her toddler. Her rent in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is about $2,000 a month and is expected to rise further.

She asked the family she works for in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for a raise to $33 an hour, and they agreed. But even that rate, which is higher than what many other nannies receive, won’t cover the cost of full-time day care, added Ms. Reyes, a member of a child-care co-op at the Carroll Gardens Association , a district. defense organization.

She has cast aside her hopes of her son socializing with other children during the day and now stays home with his grandmother while Ms. Reyes is at work.

“I can’t have the luxury of sending my child to daycare if it costs more than my rent,” she said. “If I don’t get paid well, I can’t afford to live here and I can’t afford to have my baby and my mother and my brother, and I have to look for another job. »

Irénée Cabreros reports contributed.

Audio produced by Sarah Diamond.