Daycare costs breaking bank for Iowa families

Published: Nov. 18, 2016 at 6:41 PM CST
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For some families, the cost of day care can be more expensive than college. That cost is especially hard on middle class and low income families.

A new report from The Care Index found the average American family spends about $9,500 per year for one child in daycare.

It's slightly cheaper in Iowa, nearly $8,200. That's nearly as high as the cost of tuition at the University of Iowa.

After a long work day, Colleen Dolehide picks up her two kids from daycare.She packs them in her car, drives across town and drops them off at her brother in law's house.

"He treats my kids like they're his own," said Dolehide.

Then she's off to her night shift job. Income from her second job helps pay child care bills.

"It's definitely heart breaking. When somebody will send you a picture and says this is what they are doing. And I am at work just trying to pay for someone else to watch my children," said Dolehide.

Her family spends almost $1200 per month for daycare. That's much more than her home mortgage.

"It's not about do I want a bigger family. It's, I can't even make this work even if I wanted to without relying on the government for some kind of aid," she said.

A few miles away, Alyssa Hennings says she and her husband work opposite shifts so they can afford daycare for their baby.

"Not only am I giving over my itty bitty little baby, but we're also giving over like a fourth of our paycheck," said Hennings.

Both in-home and childcare centers charge parents based on a child's age. Directors at the Dubuque Community YMCA Childcare Center say age matters because of state mandated staff to child ratios.

The state requires one staff member for every eight preschool aged child. One staff for every six toddlers and one staff for every four infants.

"That's where the money goes. It’s for those people who bond with your children," said childcare director Teresa Fischer.

Census data shows average rates have risen 70 percent since 1985. That has followed the cost of inflation.

YMCA directors say just because parents are paying a lot, doesn't mean the staff is bringing home a big paycheck.

"Childcare staff is possibly the most underpaid staff in the workforce," said Fischer.

Besides covering staff's wages, childcare centers use child tuition for operational costs, food, supplies, curriculum and continuing education for teachers.

"If you work for childcare, you're in it because you love children. You're not in it because you're making lots of money," said Fischer.

Iowa does offer help to qualifying parents paying for child care, called Child Care Assistance.

A report from the Iowa Policy Project released this week shows that help vanishes when a single parent earns more than $11.15 an hour at a full time job or about $17.00 an hour for two parents. That means if a parent takes a higher paying job, they suddenly lose about $4600 in help paying for day care. The report recommends a reform to phase out that support rather than an abrupt "cliff".

That leaves these parents wondering if going to work every day is even worth it.

"Why would you work? Because you're basically just working to pay for daycare, “said Hennings.

"Why not stay home with your kids and live off the government?" said Dolehide.

But that's not something either Dolehide or Hennings plan to do. So they'll just keep swinging it, day in and day out.

While on the campaign trail, President -Elect Donald Trump laid out an affordable childcare proposal. The plan would rewrite the tax code to allow working parents to deduct child care expenses from their income taxes. The Trump plan would also create new Dependent Care Savings Accounts that would be available to anyone who works.

The government would match half of the first $1000 deposited per year.