Care gets expensive, and expansive

Sometimes story ideas are born out of experience. And sometimes they come after a birth. In the case of this week's cover story, both statements hold true.

Freelance correspondent Neal Learner became the proud father of a baby girl, Nina, in May. After the birth, Neal and his wife, Montse, began searching in the Washington area for child care for their 18-month old, Nadia.

What they discovered, not surprisingly, was that child care doesn't come cheap.

"Money is a huge factor here, especially when prices reach $200 a week. There's just no way our budget could afford that at this point," Neal says.

So the couple decided that Montse would not resume her career as a Spanish teacher until the kids were ready for kindergarten. In the interim, Neal says, they'll rely on a nearby day-care facility part time to give Mom the "occasional breather."

Middle-income two-parent families who had a baby last year can expect to spend, on average, $16,560 on child care and education before the child turns 18, according to the US Department of Agriculture. That accounts for 10 percent of the $165,630 needed to raise a child. In 1960, the USDA reports, only 1 percent of child-rearing expenses went toward child care and education.

Such statistics confirm that child care has become a bigger part of American life.

So big are the nation's demands for day care, that we're now witnessing "night care."

With more and more parents working off hours in today's 24/7 workplace, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised when day care goes 24/7, too.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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