After a hard day’s work, Khadijah Diouf savors the few precious moments with her children at dinner time. The single mother of two lives paycheck to paycheck and struggles with the high cost of child care.
"It's just insurmountable how much I have to spend on child care," said Diouf.
Diouf chooses to work a temporary job as an administrative assistant in New York City. It keeps her schedule flexible enough for her seven-year-old daughter, Savannah, and nine-year-old son, Fela. Each week, Diouf employs a babysitter to cover her "gap time," the few hours between when her children get out of school and when she comes home from work. Still, covering for holidays or unplanned sick days can be difficult.
"Your children are off from school for the entire week, and you have to work. You are talking about hundreds of dollars for one week, and I have two children. So, you can only imagine," said Diouf.
She is not alone: The rising cost of child care is being felt all across the country.
According to a new report from Child Care Aware of America, an advocacy group, the national average cost for child care is nearly $8,700 a year. Single parents pay nearly 36 percent of their income for child care expenses for one child, while married couples pay 10 percent.
"Child care is often an invisible economy. People just don't think about it. It's just so "there," that you don't even think about it as a critical part of the economy," said Ellen Galinsky, president, Families and Work Institute, a research and policy think-tank that has studied the impact of child care costs on the workforce.
"The only benefit that we've seen increase is helping parents pay for child care with their own pre-tax dollars or dependent care assistance plans," said Galinsky. "But, in terms of providing or paying actual dollars for child care or having near-site or onsite childcare, even emergency care, those are really quite low."
"Government should take into consideration that parents are struggling, whether married or single or otherwise."
At least 50 percent of companies say they offer some form of help to their workers, whether it's tax deferred options for employees to pay for child care or referral services, according to the 2017 National Study of Employers from the Society for Human Resource Management. Still, only seven percent say they actually provide child care options at or near the work site.
For parents like Diouf, it's all about changing people's attitudes towards child care needs and finding a reasonable solution that will help families.
"The work day has gotten much longer, and the school day hasn't changed, and I feel like there needs to be a balance within that structure. I think that somewhere in government or Congress, it would be good for people to take into consideration that parents, you know, are struggling, whether you are married or single or otherwise. Parents are struggling to try to manage work-life balance," said Diouf.