This week the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives told Canadians the cost of childcare in our country is rising at three times the rate of inflation. That’s an 8% increase since 2014. It doesn’t matter if you have young kids or not, you should be worried. This is a situation that affects us all.
The harder it is to find childcare spaces, the more parents opt-out of the traditional workforce. That makes the tax base shrink. The higher the costs for care rise, the less disposable income families have to drive the economy. That hurts local businesses. It’s in all of our best interests to make this better.
Let’s look at a typical two-parent Moncton family. Based on 2011 data, their household income after taxes is about $78,000. The average daily childcare cost for an infant in our area is $33.33; preschool spaces cost $29.83 per day, and after-school spaces are an average of $18.55 per day (according to provincial reports.) So, if that family had two children a few years apart, they’re spending at least $16,000 per year in childcare. That’s almost one-quarter of their income, a rate that is one of the highest in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
This isn’t just numbers. This is my life. We are that typical two-parent family. We planned to have two children in childcare at the same time, and it was going to be a stretch. Then we were surprised with twins and it very quickly became a decision based on career goals and lifestyle choices. It just didn’t make sense to head to work every day when $25,000 of my salary would be going to childcare and I’d need to take time off whenever anyone got sick, had an appointment, there was a snow day, etc.
We decided to drop to one fulltime income and a mix of part time childcare and self-employment. That was our choice as a family. But what can we as a community do to improve the situation? There are lots of folks calling on government, both federal and provincial, to pile money on the problem. But we need more than subsidies. We need solutions. (And let me just be clear: I think trained, responsible childcare providers are in no way charging more than they are worth; in fact, I would love to see them paid more, but without a national and/or provincial infrastructure in place, the cost of full-time care will remain a barrier to parents returning to the workforce.)
Perhaps an answer will come from PEI, where the province is working to introduce a guaranteed income pilot project. The idea, tested before in Manitoba, is expected to reduce poverty and crime and increase health and education. PEI already places a cap on how much providers can charge for childcare. Combining these two initiatives could lead to some interesting outcomes.
If we’re going to look at subsidies, let’s consider more than just income levels. Swedish municipalities guarantee 15 hours of weekly care for children after the age of one. Why not pilot a provincial program that offers every parent a set number of hours of childcare, rather than financially assisting some families with fulltime care? This could potentially boost part-time employment and improve social outcomes for children and families.
Maybe the answer lies in a better process; perhaps an ideal project for New Brunswick’s chief entrepreneur in residence. Licensed childcare providers are already registered with the province; perhaps we can make finding childcare spaces more efficient, including filling more part time spaces. I know a lot of stay-at-home-parents who are jumping into entrepreneurial roles, networking during naptimes and working long after the kids are in bed. A few hours of care each week is all we need to start building the economy, but asking a daycare to create these spaces on a case-by-case basis is difficult. Let’s create a culture that supports our children, our families, and our economy. Because what we have now isn’t working.