My husband and I are a two income family. We both worked hard to earn our degrees and have student loans to pay. We are lucky to be employed as so many are not. There are days, however, as I’m driving to work that I am astounded by the irony that going to work can sometimes pose a financial hardship.
Stick with me here: I have been teaching for twelve years. Eleven of those years have required childcare. If you have never had to pay childcare, you have no idea how lucky you are. The average daycare cost is around $972.00 a month for one child. Just let that sink in for a moment: many families pay $1000 a month so they can go to work. During 2004-2006 and then again during 2009-2010, like many working families, we had two children in childcare, which almost doubled the cost. Child care is a necessity for working families, but the financial hardship that it creates is outrageous.
We definitely considered the option of one of us leaving the workforce to stay home with our children, but finding a teaching job in this area is like finding a needle in a haystack. I was so incredibly lucky to have my job and leaving could have potentially meant never teaching again. We knew that the cost of childcare was a short term stress (that does not feel short term as you are living through it) to a long term benefit. Families that find themselves in similar situations–burdened with student loans that they need to work to pay, but not being able to afford to work due to the expense of childcare, are plentiful. In my case, my husband and I do not live beyond our means. We live in a small house in a hard-working neighborhood. We drive practical vehicles, and I cut coupons like nobody’s business. We’ve cut back where we need to in order to accommodate the cost of child care, but the reality is still the same: working to pay childcare is like exercising to eat a Big Mac.
In 2003, gas prices averaged around $1.76 a gallon. In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina gas prices shot up to over $3.00 a gallon and we have not seen gas in the $1.anything region since. So while we bought our house that was centrally located between both of our jobs, before gas prices turned into what they are now, we never imagined that gas prices and our commutes to work would put such a burden on our wallets. We can budget and save to our hearts content, but the bottom line is that sometimes life gets in the way–an expensive car repair, back to school shopping, a plumbing issue–and then the budget and savings dwindle before our eyes. When this happens and we’re stretching to reach the all-mighty Payday Friday, seeing the evil “low fuel” light on the dash can break us. At over $3 a gallon, gas is sucking our wallets dry. Gas sometimes turns our dinners into Ramen Noodles and grilled cheese because we still have three days until magical Payday Friday and oh yeah, the childcare payment was due too.
Younger families who are in the workforce are definitely in that middle-class trap. The trap of making too much to qualify for help, but not enough to live without financial worry. The trap of paying childcare and gas, children’s clothing and activities, student loans and yet saving for college at the same time.
Hope and a vision of life five/ten/fifteen years down the road is what keeps us going.
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