At the beginning of each month, I write two checks from my bank account. One to my older daughter’s preschool, and one to my baby’s daycare provider. Once this is done, my net income is almost completely wiped out. Childcare costs have eaten up my take home salary.
When I first moved back to North Carolina, I looked for a job in my field and stayed home with my older daughter for about a year. We did the circuit of available activities—library storytimes, play dates, trips to the park—and so many of the parents (mainly mommies) that I met told me the same story.
“I have a Master’s degree in Social Work.” “I have a degree in Library Science.” “I have a degree in biology.” “I have a Ph.D. in English.” We all shared our academic and professional bona fides after lapsit storytime at the library on a Wednesday morning in Durham (where 42% of women over 25 are likely to have a bachelors degree or higher).
And yet, we were all staying home with our children, many for the same reason: quality childcare in North Carolina costs so much that it doesn’t make sense to work. We would either be working for close to free or actually paying to work. Recent statistics from the Pew Research Center suggests this is a national trend: the number of mothers with advanced degrees who are staying home is on the rise.
But what happens when our children are older if we decide we want to return to work? The Center for Work Life Policy reports that women who take time off from their careers face penalties over the long term, a condition exacerbated by the recession. Nearly three out of four women had trouble finding a job. And, in the process, 16% of their earning power was lost. Moreover, many who returned to work, did so by accepting a lower job title (22%) or less management responsibility (25%).
And that is exactly what happened to me. I returned to work after a lengthy job search. But I took a hit: in job title, earned income, and responsibility. And because positions in my field are few and far between, I accepted a job even though my children are still in daycare. I love what I do, but until my oldest starts kindergarten, I am essentially doing it for free.
Without affordable childcare options, women are losing out. Leaving a position, even for a few years, costs women exponentially in terms of career growth and earned income over the course of a lifetime. A study in progress reveals that women who return to work after “opting out” return to positions that earn as much as 30% less than those they left. And that is at the time of return, without considering lost income in the form of raises and salary increases. For example, if I had not “off ramped” to take care of a child, I would, based on the career track for my profession, have received two promotions and be earning 28% more than my current position.
My story is not unusual; in fact, I am luckier than most, as I have a partner on whose income we rely to cover our cost of living. In North Carolina, more than four in ten families (44%) headed by single women with children are poor, and the options for quality affordable childcare are limited.
In North Carolina, childcare costs more than public college tuition. It is preventing women from emerging from poverty, from advancing their careers, from taking care of themselves and their families. Women AdvaNCe has seven recommendations to improve childcare in the state. What would happen if we started taking care of our mothers and our children?
Melissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. Although originally from New York, she moved to North Carolina the first time for college (go Tarheels), and now she is back to stay. She enjoys reading, hiking, and gallivanting around the triangle with her family.