Monica Ward starts her day loading Amazon packages — and her 5-year-old daughter — into her car before sunrise. In the early hours of the morning, she delivers boxes to doorsteps around Cincinnati while her daughter eats McDonald’s breakfast or sleeps in the backseat.

“I know she doesn’t have the attention span to stay in the car and be seated and not do obnoxious things for four or five hours,” Ward says.

But as a single mother of two who can’t afford daycare, Ward, 32, says she has two options: Leave her daughter at home with her teenage son or bring her along to gigs.

“I recently had to resign from my job because I did not make enough money for childcare,” she says. “I literally had no other option.”

Ward quit a full-time job in May after being deemed ineligible for daycare vouchers through Ohio. Her monthly earnings  — $3,028.50 as a $20.19 per hour worker — exceeded the state’s limit of $2,726 for a three-person household.

She requested a pay increase through her employer of two months, but it was denied. So, she was forced to resign and earn less money to again be eligible for childcare assistance.

“This is the most shameful thing ever,” Ward says of quitting and applying to 60-70 new jobs.

Millions of parents nationwide find themselves in this position: struggling to afford childcare, which can absorb up to 70% of a household’s income.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Black single mothers are impacted most by the childcare crisis. Especially since 46% of Black children live with their mothers only, according to 2020 Census data

The Cost of Childcare

Childcare in some states exceeds the cost of household expenses, such as health care, housing, and education.

In Florida, center-based toddler care costs about $8,600 a year, compared to an average of $6,100 for public in-state college tuition and fees. Centers in the District of Columbia, where childcare is most expensive, charge an average of $24,400 for one toddler — twice the annual cost of healthcare in the area.

In Ohio, where Ward lives, a single mother may spend up to 40% of her yearly income on daycare, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a charitable foundation focused on improving the well-being of children. 

This puts single mothers, like Ward, in a bind.

Sending her daughter to daycare would’ve cost $700 a month out-of-pocket — or 60% of the rent for her $1,150 two-bedroom apartment. 

“Absolutely, positively no way I can afford rent and the daycare and food,” she says. “When I started working, they also cut my food assistance off.” 

An Unequal Burden on Black Moms

An analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that Black working mothers spent more than any other race on childcare for two kids in 2017 — 56% of their income, compared to 51% for American Indian and Alaska Native moms, 42% for Latino moms, and 26% for white moms. 

Between 2020 and 2021, Black children ages 5 and younger were most likely to be in a family that experienced job changes due to childcare issues. 

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs at the foundation, says disparities in pay are reasons why Black moms are suffering.

Monica Ward [right], 32, says she doesn’t “see a way out” of the childcare crisis. She says she’s always received tuition assistance for her son [left] but was recently denied for her daughter [middle].

“They tend to be overrepresented in industries where there are lower wages and where there’s less flexibility in terms of family-supporting policies that allow parents, for example, to take time off when they need to care for their kids,” she says.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a culture of remote work that may allow some moms to do double duty (working while watching their children), Boissiere says parents deserve sustainable options.

“Infant and toddler care while working is extremely difficult to do,” she says. “And so, it may create some flexibility, but it doesn’t eliminate the need to have a childcare provider to care for your children.”

Lack of Childcare and Underdevelopment

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers childcare affordable if it costs households no more than 7% of their income — a pinch of what parents actually pay.

As Boissiere says, “there’s a significant need to increase the investment in early childcare.”

“The brain is developing so rapidly for young children who are 0 to 5 years old. It’s critically important that we make sure that we have sufficient resources so that all families and all children have access to quality childcare,” she says.

When families are financially secure, parents, as well as their children, are less likely to experience mental illness

Between 2020 and 2021, Black children ages 5 and younger were most likely to be in a family that experienced job changes due to childcare issues. 

“When parents are stressed out, children are absolutely stressed out,” Boissiere says.

This has been the case for Ward, who’s battled depression since she’s been unemployed. She’s had to put her goal of advancing her career as a medical assistant on hold and work odd jobs to make ends meet.

She’s currently considering other routes to financial stability.

“It’s like I have to go back to school and go back to the drawing board. But even if I go back to school, who’s going to provide for us in the meantime?” Ward says. “I have thought about different scenarios, and I don’t know what our future looks like at all.’”

This story was corrected to say Monica Ward applied for daycare vouchers through the state of Ohio and submitted applications to 60-70 jobs.

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