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How Child Care in New York City Became Unaffordable for Nearly Everyone


Not long after Crystal Springs started her new job at a large insurance company in Midtown Manhattan earlier this year, she realized that a much bigger chunk of her paycheck than she expected was going directly to child care for her 5-year-old daughter.

Ms. Springs had dreamed that the job, which allowed her and her husband to make about $200,000 a year combined, would help provide a comfortable middle-class life for her family in Ozone Park, Queens. But as bills mounted and her daughter’s routine days off turned into emergencies, she felt stuck. Exasperated, she left the job she had fought so hard to get.

Around the same time, in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, Doris Irizarry was struggling to sustain the day care center she ran out of her home. Expenses were rising every month, and she said she was making only about $3 a day for each of the six children who attended. She finally closed for good this summer after 25 years.

“This industry is going to die,” she said. “We cannot survive without the parents, and the parents cannot survive without us. We’re a unit.”

In a notoriously stratified city experiencing its worst affordability crisis in decades, the skyrocketing cost of child care is one of the few issues that connects working families across geography, race and social class.

All but the wealthiest New Yorkers — even the upper middle class and especially mothers — are scrambling to afford care that will allow them to keep their jobs. Median prices for nearly every type of child care in New York City have shot up since 2017, according to state surveys of providers. Montessori preschool programs can cost more than $4,000 a month in affluent neighborhoods, and working-class families are stretching their budgets to pay at least $2,000 a month for day care.

And the workers who provide child care are reeling from high costs and are leaving the industry. Many make just over minimum wage, leaving them barely able to afford to stay in New York City or pay for care for their own children.

Interviews with more than three dozen parents, nannies, day care providers and experts revealed a potentially devastating crisis for the future of New York City. In recent years, only the astronomical cost of housing has presented a greater obstacle to working families than the cost of child care, experts said.

A New York City family would have to make more than $300,000 a year to meet the federal standard for affordability — which recommends that child care take up no more than 7 percent of total household income — to pay for just one young child’s care. In reality, a typical city family is spending over a quarter of their income to pay for that care, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Nothing really pushes you to leave the city until you have a kid,” she said. “If we could have made it work, we probably would have stayed.”

Her first week at that job coincided with her daughter’s school vacation, and she sensed her boss’s mounting frustration as she kept asking to work from home.

Some day care providers said they were deeply sympathetic to the parents they served and have created sliding-scale programs for some families who were struggling to pay day care costs.

Silvia Reyes, a full-time nanny, was making $19 an hour working for a family when she started eight years ago. Since then, everything in her life has gotten more expensive even as she has become the sole financial provider for her mother, her teenage brother and her toddler. Her rent in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is about $2,000 a month and is set to rise again.

She asked the family she works for in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for a raise to $33 an hour, and they agreed. But even that rate, which is more than many other nannies receive, will not cover the cost of full-time day care.

She has set aside her hopes of having her son socialize with other children during the day, and he now stays at home with his grandmother while Ms. Reyes is at work.

“I can’t have the luxury of sending my kid to a day care if it would cost more than my rent,” she said. “If I don’t get paid well, I can’t afford living here and I can’t afford having my baby and my mom and my brother, and I have to look for another job.”

Irineo Cabreros contributed reporting.


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