‘When You Subtract What I Pay For Child Care, I’m Only Making $10 An Hour’


Ask any American with young children what their No. 1 household expense is, and you’ll hear the same answer almost every time: child care. Each family finds its own way to manage. Some parents are pushed out of the workforce. Others work jobs they wouldn’t take otherwise or hold down multiple jobs in order to meet their families’ needs.

In order to show you how real families are navigating this child care challenge, HuffPost is profiling parents around the country. If you’d like to be featured in an installment, email us at parents@huffpost.com.

When Ashley is with her daughters, she sometimes worries that she should be working instead in order to bring in more income for their family.
Courtesy of Ashley P.
When Ashley is with her daughters, she sometimes worries that she should be working instead in order to bring in more income for their family.

Name: Ashley P.

Age: 36

Location: Pennsylvania

Children’s ages: 7 and 3.5 years old

Annual household income: $95,000

Monthly household take-home pay: $5,000

Ashley’s weekly take-home pay: $425

Weekly child care costs: $275

Work arrangements: “I have four-ish, four or five jobs that I’m trying to kind of piecemeal together. That’s where I’m at.”

Ashley works in assistive technology, aiding people with disabilities. She is a certified teacher but now works at a nonprofit because the hours allow her to care for her children. “My primary job I work four days a week. 9:30 a.m. I get there, and I leave at 2:45 p.m. or 3 o’clock.” Her older daughter gets picked up by the school bus by 8:45 a.m., and then Ashley either drops her younger daughter at preschool or with a sitter, depending on the day. In the afternoons, she picks both girls up. Her wife works full time as a teacher and athletic coach an hour-and-a half away, leaving at 5:20 a.m. and getting home at 7:30 p.m. “on a good day,” Ashley said.

“My other weekday job is I go into different day cares or child care settings and do observations for kids with behavioral needs. That’s sort of on a referral basis, so it’s almost every week. I just also started watching a little girl in my house in the morning. She gets dropped off at 7:15 and hangs out with us until the bus comes. That’s just new this week.”

“That’s the work week. And then on the weekends, I got a job working events for a dog treat company. I go to different holiday markets and things like that, and have a little vendor stand. Also, whenever I can, [I] work with my neighbor who’s a contractor. I help him with construction work, anything like that. Basically any day I’m free, I call him, and he puts me to work.”

She does need to write up reports for her jobs outside of her daytime hours, and it’s a struggle to find time in the evenings to work this in. “Sometimes my kids will say, ‘Do you have any work to do on your computer tonight? Or can you play with us?’”

Child care plan: “My younger daughter goes to a babysitter in the home, two days a week. And then she goes to preschool three days a week. Preschool is half days, so then I have another sitter pick her up from school and bring her back to my house. So there’s three different child care arrangements just for the little one. Three different places. And because of my schedule and my wife’s schedule, I do the pickups, the drop-offs, all that — so most of my income goes to the sitters. And hers really goes to the home, utilities, food, gas. So we struggle. We definitely are struggling.”

“The problem truly is that if I were to get a standard, traditional full-time teaching job, then I’m paying more for before school care and after school care, because those hours don’t match. [Right now] I don’t have [the 7-year-old] in any aftercare program. I try to rush back here for the bus. Luckily we live in a townhome community, so we have a lot of neighbors nearby who can make sure she gets off the bus if I’m a few minutes late. For me, the biggest struggle is I’m still paying student loans, and that’s $350 a month. My car payment’s $400. We’re told, ‘Go to school, go to college, you’ll be fine.’ And I’m going to be paying my loans until I’m 52, I think it works out to. So I’m not giving my kids a chance — I can’t save anything for them, to help them not be in this position. And that’s what really breaks my heart. In addition to [that], I feel like I’m just missing their whole lives because I’m too busy trying to survive and work a million jobs.”

In the summer, Ashley’s wife is off work and takes on a lot of the child care responsibilities, although the school system calendars don’t align completely. “My wife teaches in New Jersey, and they get out much later than Pennsylvania. So there’s a period of three weeks where, again, we’re kind of piecemealing things together because [our older daughter] is out of school, and I’m still working. I’ll usually [work] one day from home. I have had a neighbor watch them, or we switched kids on a playdate — I’ll work from home one day and have a friend over and then vice versa. We’ve really tried to make connections with other families and make it work that way. She has done a camp, too. She did a science camp and maybe an art camp or something through the local school district or community college that was pretty reasonably priced.”

What would help their family: “I truly love what I do right now. So if I could make more money doing that, especially with a nonprofit — I work with a fantastic team of people who are just so motivated to really make change with people with disabilities, and I feel really strongly about that work. So that really fulfills me.”

“Definitely an increase [in pay] per hour would be hugely helpful. The other thing that would be really helpful would be to have assistance with child care costs. Unfortunately, because of our income, we don’t qualify for any assistance because on paper, we make too much money — but nobody bothers to look at me overdrawing my bank account when I just don’t have enough, [or] putting gas on a credit card.”

“We got some assistance through the pandemic — those payments that they gave out. That was very helpful because I was only working sporadically.”

“I want to be the parent who’s available to go to school activities. I love that flexibility, and my wife doesn’t have that as much, so that’s ideal for me. As crazy as the piecemealing is, putting things together, it’s probably the best case scenario at this point — besides financially.”

“Basically, no matter which way I slice it, about half of my hourly rate goes right back to child care. Another way to look at what I’m bringing home is that I’m making $10 an hour after taking out what I pay for child care hourly. And so I’m constantly trying to figure out what makes sense. If I can ever work from home a day, if I’m just working on paperwork or something, again, my team is fantastic. I’m so grateful that they are open to that. To save me $50 a day is huge. Once [the younger child] is in school full time, I’ll maybe buy myself another 15 minutes because I’m not driving her to school. But, really, then my hours are still going to be so limited. The bus doesn’t come until 8:45 a.m., and she gets back at 3:45 p.m. That doesn’t give me too much [time]. So I don’t know what that’ll look like. But I can’t anticipate [if] care for two kids before or after school is gonna pay off, either. So I’m just stuck in this cycle. It doesn’t feel like there’s any escaping it, which is a really scary, crappy feeling, and nobody prepares you for that.”

“I want to be able to be with them on the weekend and not feel guilty about it. If I am with them, and we’re doing something as a family, I feel guilty for spending money — which we try not to do. Luckily in our area, there’s a lot of free activities and things. But then I feel guilty because all I can think of is, ‘What’s the cost for me not working that day if I had the chance?’ So even when I’m physically present, I’m still just so worried how to make ends meet. I’m so grateful that my wife doesn’t stress. She’s very laid back.”

“My wife is fantastic. She never gives me a hard time for doing a million different things on the weekends. She’ll hold down the fort. She’s completely capable of everything, which is a huge relief to me. Sometimes when I meet up with friends, they’re like, ‘Oh, my husband can’t handle anything.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I haven’t heard from everybody. So I guess everything’s good.’ Two moms for the win. There’s a very different vibe, which I’m really grateful for.”

“I always feel like the turning point is right around the corner. If I just take one more job, I’ll be okay. If I just do one more thing. And it’s never happening. So I’m at the point where I have to accept that, and do everything I can but not always be striving for the next best thing. Unless I win a lottery, I don’t see a way out of it. That’s my real struggle.”

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