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$20.000 a year for kindergarten: why raising a child in New York is incredibly expensive


Alina Prikhodko

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The New York City Council is calling on the Adams administration to reverse planned $1 billion in budget cuts, including $170 million in funding for early childhood education, which lawmakers say is critical for young families. According to Gothamist, child care is already unaffordable for 80% of New York families.

Lawmakers warn that any cuts to the city's 3-K and pre-K programs, which provide free education for 3- and 4-year-olds, would worsen the child care crisis and force more middle-class New Yorkers to leave the city as housing prices and food supplies will skyrocket.

“The way we price child care really has nothing to do with the cost,” said Lauren Melody, associate director of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School. “Parents cannot afford the market price, and service providers cannot afford to work at a reduced price. This leaves a gap that needs to be filled through public investment.”

According to reports, 80% of families spend $14-$000 per year on child care for a child 20.000 years old or younger. A family with an income of $5 can spend a quarter of their salary on baby or toddler care, exceeding federal standards that child care costs should not exceed 86% of a family's income. Meanwhile, reports show that about a quarter of child care workers live in poverty, and some areas have fewer child care centers as many have closed since the pandemic.

Childcare Teacher with Children

Why is child care so expensive?

There are rules that determine how many children can be in one room, how much space is required for each child, and the ratio of adults and caregivers to the number of children. In home child care facilities, there must be at least one teacher for every eight children, but no more than two children per teacher. Therefore, staffing is one of the main cost items for child care centers.

On the subject: Personal experience: what circles to enroll a Russian-speaking child in New York

What child care programs are there?

Center-based child care programs operate in commercial settings, while home or group child care programs operate in private homes. Home programs are limited to a maximum of eight children, while group family programs are limited to 16 children.

Home daycare centers often offer families flexibility, such as non-traditional hours, locations closer to home or work, and more space for infants. In general, in-home services are cheaper than in centers. Infant care costs are higher than for older children due to fewer staff.

Is there a difference in prices depending on the area

Service providers say they can charge whatever their area can afford. In low- to moderate-income locations, this is not always enough to cover operating costs, especially for home-based child care businesses. For example, programs in Castle Hill or other areas of the Bronx cannot charge as much as programs in Riverdale.

In 14 city districts, there are three or more children for every available place in kindergarten. These include primarily the areas of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens. According to a report from the Citizens' Committee for Children of New York, families in Brooklyn and the Bronx bear the highest burden and pay a higher percentage of their income on child care.

Families in Mott Haven and Hunts Point in the Bronx spend up to 63% of their income on infant and toddler care, and only 0,4% of families, based on federal affordability standards, can afford it. But this problem is not limited to low-income areas. According to the report, there are only two areas in the entire city where the majority of families are able to afford care for infants and toddlers: Greenwich Village and Tribeca.

What is the most expensive budget item for child care institutions?

The budget consists of approximately 80% of salaries and additional expenses.
Paying assistants takes up a large portion of their income, even though they are paid a minimum wage.

“I am in this business not because I made money, but because of the generosity of my husband. He pays all the bills, because if it were me, I would end up in the poorhouse,” said Doris Irizarry, a teacher at a family education group in Castle Hill in the Bronx. She says she needs the money to pay for her mortgage, utilities, workers' insurance and supplies for her children.

How the cost of services affects the number of staff

The child care sector faces challenges of staffing shortages and retention, as well as pay parity, as center-based providers compete with the Department of Education's 3-K and pre-K programs, which can pay staff more for the same qualifications.

“That's why a lot of people have left the industry, they're now working from home,” said Irizarry, who lives in the Bronx. “They pay $22 an hour and provide all the benefits, vacations, etc. They receive health insurance, vacation pay, and holiday pay. We can't afford it."

Subsidy programs

Those who cannot afford childcare are eligible to receive a voucher to help cover some of the costs. This category includes families with incomes below a certain level, those who are homeless, or those receiving cash assistance. The child must be a US citizen or have legal immigration status.

How can I solve this problem

Child care experts say the city and state need to move toward universal child care. Last year, the City Council passed a bill that would create an advisory board to decide how to achieve universal child care within five years.

“We shouldn't expect prices to go down, because if we want high-quality care, we have to pay for it,” Lauren Melody concluded.

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