The cost of childcare accounts for a significant expense in families. It is a barrier to employment and a barrier to prosperity for many households. Families are faced with the decision of whether it is truly worth it to work. Some opt to not work at all due to the cost cancelling out or even making them worse off financially. This takes them out of the workforce for longer which can make it more challenging in getting back into it. It can take them out of higher education opportunities because of the sheer double cost associated with fees on top of fees. And some are faced with less than ideal childcare arrangements. It trickles out to whether they can pay the rent, it affects the quality of food they eat, whether they go deeper in debt or can save for the future, to having negative consequences on the country’s economic growth.
Parental leave options are reasonable in Canada and have been improved but these generally provide the most advantage for the more comfortable of the middle class. The threshold for subsidy is low, and even if a family qualifies, there may not be a childcare space available (subsidized or not). And waitlists for childcare spots in some of Canada’s major cities would be comical if it weren’t for the implications.
Quebec, Manitoba and PEI have had provincial fee caps. Now BC is following suit with their $10 a day childcare pilot – but this only benefits some. Ontario is one of the most expensive provinces, where it can easily cost over $1000 a month per child; in Toronto one can expect to pay in the realm of $2000 depending on age, with costs in some areas continuing to rise, due in part to childcare centres’ increased costs to keep going. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that nearly 800,000 children live in childcare deserts. Why do we have such disparities across regions and provinces in the same country?
Think of what an enabler affordable childcare can be, and having a system that ensures timely access to quality care; this happens when government prioritizes it and steps in. Provincial players are important, so too the federal government working towards improvements and its ever-evolving child benefit helps. Addressing childcare issues must also be comprehensive, including better wages for staff.
These problems are complex and not unique to Canada, they are experienced across the US; both countries lagging behind their advanced counterparts in effective strategies. Take Iowa, a state ranking 39th in families experiencing the Cliff Effect: when parents lose childcare assistance due to their earnings but are worse off as a result. The United Way has turned this into action by engaging with families through its OpportUNITY Iowa Summit and advocating for raising the Childcare Assistance Threshold.