Strung out summer: Unaddressed childcare issues push parents to the brink

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While kids might count down the days until summer every year, parents are less likely to to await the season with bated breath. Their trepidation doesn’t stem from an increase in Bluey watch parties, but rather a mounting pressure when it comes to childcare responsibilities.

Already juggling care and career responsibilities, another (beach) ball has been lobbed at working parents: finding supervision for their kids during their vacation. While summer break is nothing new, years marked by a high cost of living and a nationwide childcare crisis means that parents are more strapped than usual. The heat turns up in the summer, after all.

That cost of finding childcare means that almost a third (29%) of parents report being unable to save in the summer, according to a Intuit Credit Karma survey of more than 2,000 adults. More than half (61%) of parents note that raising a kid feels more expensive during the dog days of summer with 40% reporting that they worry the most about their finances at this time.

“The high cost of childcare is not a seasonal issue. It plagues parents year-round; however, the summer months can be especially challenging as kids are out of school and parents are on the hook for keeping them entertained, and under adult supervision,” Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma, tells Fortune

While the price of finding supervision varies per state, the national average cost of care ($11,582 in 2023) represents 10% of a couple’s and 32% of a single household’s median income—per a recent report from Child Care Aware of America. That’s greater than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ suggested 7%, the authors note. 

During COVID-19, the care system’s crisis deepened, as the field already defined by low wages experienced greater turnover due to burnout. As pandemic-era aid that provided temporary relief ended, inflation continued to exert pressure on the already broken infrastructure as parents struggled to find affordable options. 

The mounting price tag forced parents, especially mothers, out of the workforce. “Over the last several decades, dual-income households have become increasingly common as more women entered the workforce, helping contribute to their families economic success,” said Alev. “Unfortunately, rising costs associated with raising children has led many parents to having to make career sacrifices because unaffordable childcare surpasses some parents’ earnings.”

Even as the high cost of living ebbs and certain states tackle the childcare crisis, parents are still finding themselves struggling to keep their heads above water. Finding care too expensive, 35% of parents have to change their work hours to make do; young generations are especially impacted, at 51% of Gen Zers and 40% of millennials. “This trend could be especially detrimental for young parents who are earlier on in their careers,” adds Alev.

And summer camp isn’t an option for many households, as 40% of parents report that the cost of living means they can’t afford said programs. Of those that are taking their kids to camp, 28% are going into debt or resorting to buy-now-pay-later options to cover the expense. 

With their employees likely floundering a bit, companies have a chance to step in and make sure the crisis doesn’t force their workforce out the door. “As Americans adapt to a new normal, where their money doesn’t go as far as it once did, employers and corporations can prioritize fair wages, benefits packages, and growth opportunities within their companies,” says Alev, highlighting flexible schedules and paid-family leave as potential salves.

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