NEW JERSEY – While prices at the pump and at the grocery store continue to climb in the Garden State and beyond, New Jersey lawmakers are zeroing in on another area of life expected to see dollar amount increases this year: childcare.
Due to rising costs of daycare and associated staffing shortages, New Jersey Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex) predicts that working many New Jersey mothers – even those making over 300 percent above the federal poverty level – will leave their jobs to become at-home caregivers.
“Families who cannot afford the increase in childcare … will see an overwhelming amount of women having to drop out of the workforce, and we do know that some men will make that decision as well. But we also know that, in a disproportionate way, women will have to be the ones to leave the workforce to care for the children,” Timberlake said.
The assemblywoman’s comments were made as a part of a joint session of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee, which Timberlake chairs, and the Assembly Women and Children Committee held on Monday to discuss the women’s labor force participation and the impacts of childcare.
Timberlake added that daycare in the state costs an average of $1500 a month for one child, an already overwhelming price tag for most families. With daycares struggling to retain staff and keep up with the soaring price of goods, Timberlake says tuition increases are just on the horizon.
“Tuition is already extremely high, and it’s already a major burden on so many families, not just low- to moderate-income, but even those who make … above 300 percent of the poverty level struggle currently to pay that, particularly when a woman has multiple children,” Timberlake said.
In fact, earlier this year, a Household Pulse Survey by the Census Bureau found that 39 percent of New Jersey families are facing challenges finding childcare. An Assembly bill introduced earlier this month would actually provide subsidies to families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, which is almost $70,000 for a three-person family and almost $100,000 for a five-person household.
The struggle for families to find care comes at a time when many parents are paying 20 percent or more of their household income on childcare, according to Bloomberg. That’s way above the 7 percent household income threshold that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines as affordable childcare.
The costs of babysitters and nannies have also jumped significantly compared to pre-pandemic averages, with average national weekly nanny rates up 23 percent ($694) and average national weekly babysitter rates up 7 percent ($261), according to a Care.com study. The same study listed average weekly childcare center rates as being up 5 percent, or $226.
“When it comes to childcare, there are three critical criteria – cost, quality and availability – and based on our research findings, we’ve not only failed to make progress as a country, we’ve actually gone backwards,” said Natalie Mayslich, Care.com’s President of Consumer Affairs, in a statement. “Costs are growing while availability is shrinking and that’s having a profound impact on the workforce and consumer spending. We’ve all seen what happens when parents can’t work; making childcare more affordable and accessible has to be a priority for all.”
A recent Rutgers study also found that the COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions to childcare for New Jersey households across the board, as childcare was disrupted in 21.5 percent of families making $100,000 and above and nearly 27 percent of families making less than $50,000. Disruptions, according to the survey, included cut hours, left/loft job and supervising children while working from home.
To Timberlake, those disruptions will only increase given tuition hikes and staffing woes.
But in an effort to ease damages of the pandemic on childcare, Assembly Women and Children Committee introduced a slew of legislation in recent months, proposing actions such as the establishment of a child tax credit program, a subsidy program for childcare services based on enrollment, notice of tuition rate changes in daycare centers and a grant program for constructing kitchen facilities in childcare centers.
“We are in triage mode here in our great state,” said Timberlake. “We’re trying to preserve our workforce, we’re trying to preserve an entire sector that is oftentimes women-owned, as well as minority-owned. We’re trying to preserve educational quality and access to educational quality for those who are ages 0-5 years old for all families.”