To Grandmother's house we go: Money woes force parents out of daycare

Any parent can tell you that finding a good daycare for your child is a giant pain. Once you've figured out how you'll work it into your budget, you shop around for a long time looking for the perfect place, and then when you've narrowed it down, you spend months on a waiting list just to see if you'll even be offered the privilege of sending your kid and all of your money to the daycare of your choice.

At least, that's how it used to be. The sharp downturn in the economy has had a pronounced effect on the daycare industry, as struggling families can no longer afford it. Parents are pulling kids from daycare and either staying home with them or sending the kids to friends and relatives during the workday. The waiting lists that used to mean job security for all the daycare providers have dried up, and centers are offering part- time services as well as extended hours for parents who work odd or extended hours.

Some parents are quitting their jobs because daycare expenses exceed their income. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies estimates that day care costs range from $3,380 to $10,787 per child per year. In every state in the country, the monthly child care bill for two children is higher than median rent payments and as high or higher than a mortgage. Those figures are even before factoring in the fuel costs of getting children to daycare, which have been the breaking point for many families, not just lower income.

For families that don't have helpful grandparents, there are no easy choices. Many parents are forced to take on second jobs just to afford the cost of child care while they're at their day jobs. Families are cutting back on child care "until things get better," but so far, things aren't improving.

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