When Families Can’t Afford to Work: The Irony

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.  

Cutting coupons and swearing at your gas tank too?  Find Mrs Momblog on Facebook for more. Click the link below:


You can also follow me on twitter: @Mrs_MomblogImage

About Mrs Momblog

Mom of 3, wife of 1, teacher of 103. Sarcastic always.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to When Families Can’t Afford to Work: The Irony

  1. Liza Wyles says:

    And another irony is that I think we don’t pay childcare givers enough. I mean – I entrust them with the care of my children for the entire day! Yet, $1K/month for 1 kid (and we have 2 so doing the math hurts – especially since we’ve got Common Core math) is enough to reconsider both of us working at all, like you discuss. But for now, our incomes barely edge out our expenses so on paper, it’s worth it. But quality of life? Hmm…

  2. Joanna Beyer says:

    My children are five years apart in age for this exact reason. I couldn’t afford daycare for my son until my daughter went to Kindergarten. And one of the main factors making me decide to stop at two instead of my original plan of three is that I can’t imagine going back to throwing money down the daycare hole now that my second is in school. (Money well-spent, of course, for the care of my children, but you know what I mean!)

  3. I can see paying a daycare $1k a month, but only if that child is under the age of kindergarten and rely on everyone for everything. But if its just after school care, then by all means bring that cost down. That is the age where u can pack and after school snack for them along with a drink. And as for extra activities that cost money, we just don’t do it. Sometimes parents don’t realize just exspensive these activiities are, including all the traveling that is necessary. I also cut coupons, use the target cartwheel app, plus my husbands target discount and target debit card (only way to get the employee discount). But when u have 5 kids that eat more in one day than the 3 adults do, it makes one want to cringe. On the side note about cutting costs in daycares, many do not tell parents that could apply for a program that helps with the cost of childcare. Its a reimbursement program for the facility. Plus they can utilize food pantries, and see if they qualify to get money to help with food costs. Most of the daycares fees are not directly related to taking care of the child, but the food cost, their utility bills and what not. These facilities should also look into weatherization programs and buying appliances (if necessary) that will qualify them for the start program!!! They too can also use their communities and ask for donations of clothing and stuff so they dont have too keep buying new. I could go on and on, but then i would just bore people to death, lol

  4. sue says:

    Imagine these costs as a single parent! Lower middle class no less. In addition to child care, consider that babies, toddlers and preschoolers are also an age with large expenses like diapers and bottles and formula. Even past those stages they are constantly growing out of clothes and shoes! This was all tough enuf raising my son in the 80’s, can’t imagine it today.

  5. Jody says:

    Some things really need to change. I am 45, shhh. When I was 20 I had a two year old Daughter I was raising on my own. A friend of mine was also 20 and was raising a three year old on her own. I didn’t have a car because I couldn’t afford one. I took two buses to get my Daughter to the babysitter, which I paid for. I received very little help from the government. Because I worked, I only qualified for $95 in food stamps a month. At one point I was working two jobs just to make the bills. I had my phone shut off and no cable, because shelter and food for my Daughter was the priority. Bottom line, I thought I was doing the right thing by working and paying taxes. My friend took a different approach. She did not work. Instead she went to school, which the government paid for. She had enough money left over from the grants to buy a car. They paid for her childcare, her rent, gas, electric, food, and some extra money for necessities (toilet paper,ect.). So I was working and paying taxes to help support her, yet I couldn’t get any help except for $95 in food stamps a month. It didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t make sense now!!! I am in no way blaming the people who actually need help getting from point A to point B, and actually that is the way it worked for my friend. I just had too much pride and thought I was doing the right thing, and in reality it should have been the right thing. I feel that if somebody is trying to work, yet are still struggling, they should be able to receive some help.

    • 2ndyearteacher says:

      I completely agree with you. My hat’s off to you for working so hard and not working the system.

      • JP says:

        I agree that this woman worked hard, and good for her. But “Working the system?” The system is there to help people who need help. That friend of hers is probably now working a decent job after going to school and being productive.

  6. Kate Madigan says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It shouldn’t be this hard for parents. In many countries parents get months of paid leave and job-protected leave for up to a year or more so they can care for their young children before returning to work. Some countries subsidize child care so that families get help affording quality child care when their children are young. Studies have found that it increases the labor rate among young women and essentially pays for itself. If only our country would make these worthwhile investments in children and families and the workforce.

  7. ncreadergirl says:

    We were there with you until my husband lost his job in ’08, then he became the primary childcare person in our home while i worked, albeit part-time, it was a job. We both obtained our current jobs three+ years ago, he remained part-time in order to cut the cost of day care out of our budget; when we had to take on a car payment, after not having one for many years, he upped his hours to full-time – we’re now paying for just after school care, but it’s only $70/week – we’re very lucky to have stumbled onto it! But once upon a time before our move to NC we were paying $275.00/week for full-time in home daycare for both of them!

  8. Jim lemerand says:

    I agree with Jody. She found a way to make do with what she had. My parents, and I, have been in similar situations. We took the bus. We walked where we needed. We lived in a 2 room apt… all of us sleeping in the single bedroom. There were patches on my jeans and school supplies were bought when a pack of paper could be had for 10 cents. My mom baked bread and donuts… selling them door to door. There was no “daycare”. It was my grandmother who watched us while my mom took the bus to people’s houses to wash their walls, do their laundry and iron their clothes.

    Anyone who says they’re doing all they can… but have cellphones, cable tv, or any meat more than once a month is not doing all they can. Get a scooter to get to work. take the bus, ride a bike. Disconnect the air conditioner. Your church can steer you in the direction of a local pantry like gleaners or second harvest. Take-out and a night at the bar are out too. Drink tap water instead of bottled and take soft drinks and potato chips off the list. I don’t need to comment what to do if you smoke or drink.

    Kids are expensive… and are a choice. While I do not bemoan those who want and have kids, there can be no complaining when, like I used to do, you have to make the decision whether to pay the rent or electric this month… My mom made sure we had food on the table… though we may have shared rice and a single egg for dinner.

    To many are drawn to the dark side… the side of handouts, “free” phones, “free” food, :”free” housing. None of it is free. And the money doesn’t come from thin air. We are the government and we pay the taxes that are covering the bill… with money taken from us. Proud people understand that… and like you Jody, do what you must do. You are not alone. It will get better.

    • JunkChuck says:

      My wife and I moved from the west coast back to Appalachia after the births of our children, specifically to be closer to our parents, despite the substantial differences in economic opportunities at the time. We thought, rightly so, that the lower housing costs and free family childcare would be more of a benefit than better jobs at higher wages. We were lucky to have family here. I look around and wonder how a lot of people do it–the public transportation you advocate is virtually non-existent in much of America, and is degrading rapidly beneath increasingly smaller funding. It is naive at best to suggest that working people (the minimum wage here is $7.25) ride bicycles as family transportation (with kids on the back? in the rain and snow?) and your implication about free telephones is based on a myth. Most people I’ve encountered would love to be free of subsidized housing or food stamps as well. You’ve clearly missed the point of the article. My wife and I earn around $90,000 annually combined, have employer-paid health insurance, and live in a modest home with a mortgage of around $200 every two weeks. We don’t have an air condtioner, and have cable TV because our children’s homework requires a fast internet connection and the TV is part of the package with our landline telephone. We wouldn’t have a TV at all but a relative gave us one about 10 years ago, when the black and white 19″ died. We have cells, but use tracfones–at a cost of roughly $25/month for 4 phones. We eat well–although we often have meat once a week, so I guess we’re a bit spoiled–and take quite a bit from a 2000’sq garden. We save $200/month for the future, and most of the rest goes to taxes, utilities, gasoline (my wife carpools to a rural school), and every year we take a 4 night vacation to stay at the beach, where we sleep in a tent. Somehow, we remain one unexpected expense away from catastrophe. This month, a $500 car repair. Last month: a huge tree fell down in a storm, $450. We don’t have car payments–our vehicles both exceed 150,000 miles and are 10 and 15 years old. I’m not complaining. We’re doing great. We have heat, our kids participate in sports and do well in school, but despite our frugality there is always something–I simply can’t imagine how two people making wages offered in todays job market get by: two parents making minimum wage will earn about $32,000 combined. It’s easy to be dismissive and blame this on them for not working hard, but a second job for either parent effectively removes them from the family–and isn’t that ironic? We talk a lot about family values, but it’s all just talk if the only way parents can keep afloat is to stash their children in daycare and work 16 hour days? Oh, I suppose they could sell doughnuts door to door, but it takes a crap-load of doughnuts to pay for groceries, a heating bill, or healthcare.

  9. Judi Fox says:

    The middle class is going away / or already gone. The salaries of CEO’s have skyrocketed, but our salaries have stagnated and barely kept up with inflation or housing costs. People say we need to be “ok” with this because the economy is tight, but this has been slowly happening over 40+ years. Our ability to work hard and live the “American” dream and make ends meet has been slowly eroded – so slow that we almost don’t know it, but yet each year it seems to get tougher and tougher with slight breaks in the strss. http://www.upworthy.com/9-out-of-10-americans-are-completely-wrong-about-this-mind-blowing-fact-2?c=bl3

  10. Sarah Haight says:

    Wholeheartedly agree! I am a single mom of twin boys. By the time I pay for preschool and then daycare to cover when preschool doesn’t care for them, I pay over half of my monthly salary. Which is well worth it to me for their care, but then factor in all the necessities (rent, gas, car payment, groceries, electric, etc) and there is little left over. Where I live, I can’t qualify for any type of assistance (besides medical coverage for my boys) because I make too much (??). Yet, in the school I teach in, many of my parents DON’T work and they drive these expensive cars, have well manicured nails, nice clothes and purses. I would never give up my job as I love what I do and all of these struggles make me better. But it would be nice if for once, the working middle class would get some assistance and the people who are sitting collecting assistance AND not trying to find work or better themselves would get a reality check. Hard work should pay off.

    • I’m sorry but I don’t understand why millions of taxpayers should be providing your children with medical coverage. Don’t they have a father? Didn’t you think about the cost BEFORE you got pregnant?

      I find it unfair to burden the taxpayers with your choices. YOU wanted kids, then YOU should find a way to financially support them.

      • Mrs Momblog says:

        Have you ever considered that sometimes unfortunate situation occurs in a person’s life that is out of their control? Divorce, loss, loss of a job? I hope you never find yourself among hard times–but if you do, I’m sure you’ll learn that really crappy things happen to good people and there are really narrow minded judgmental people, such as yourself, who don’t give a rats ass about you.

  11. This: “The trap of making too much to qualify for help, but not enough to live without financial worry” you nailed it. It’s a trap indeed. Thanks for writing a profoundly relevant post!

  12. kcourt40 says:

    “Working to pay childcare is like exercising to eat a Big Mac.”
    Well said.

  13. Now that my children are out of school…well, one still in college. I often wish that I had not worked during their school years. After looking at what I really made financially during those years I don’t think it was really worth it. But like everyone…two incomes are better than one.

  14. Tracey Johns says:

    I have just come across your blog – (via your Common Core post) and feel like we are leading somewhat parallel lives (as are many of us, I am sure). Thanks for this great blog!

  15. Christina says:

    we moved across the country a year ago for a job opportunity for me. when we did, my husband stopped working to be home with our kids. financially, we are in a better position with him home. i do ride a bike to work when weather/schedule’s permit. we drive economy cars otherwise. my daughter started kindergarten this year, but we pay tuition for full day, public k because it isn’t mandatory. our 3 year old son should be in preschool, but we don’t have the funds right now. are we doing everything we can? no, we like cable – actually we just switched to Dish which will save us over $100/month over cable. we haven’t been saving nearly as much as we used to, and our debt has risen steadily over the last year. we’re stuck in the trap, especially since we’re using credit cards to make ends meet right now. husband is interviewing to get a part time job that will not require child care so we can start paying off these debts a lot quicker. ugh. it’s really hard…

  16. Kelly says:

    We are a military family and live nowhere close to family. My older boys went to daycare and I worked full time . We ended up in a bad situation with a teacher verbally abusing my four year old and because the video was no sound it could never be proven. It took a long time for him to get over that. Then when I quit working we actually saved money cause the cost of childcare ect. I was working just to pay for daycare and gas pretty much. Now with my younger two boys I trust no one with them. The little money I would make is not worth it. Could we use it ,most definitely but for now we do without until they are in school.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s