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Editorial: The high cost of kiddies

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When the 2007-08 school session began in the Triad last week, thousands of working families breathed a collective sigh of relief, not necessarily because all the little Taylors, Jacksons and Madisons will be out from underfoot but because with the advent of classes, working parents got a bit more breathing room in the monthly family budget.

When it’s summertime, any working parent of young children can tell you, the living is definitely not easy, due mainly to the fact that the 30 hours or so the young ones normally spend each week in school must be compensated with camps, babysitters or daycare – and no small amount of dollars.

But the spending doesn’t end when school begins. Children of working parents need after-school care until their parents get home; those too young for school must stay in daycare centers, sometimes from dawn until well past dusk; clubs, sports and lessons are great for childhood development, but they too come at a cost.

And the numbers, all too familiar to those with young children, are staggering.

A 2003 study for the NC Division of Childhood Development found that 63 percent of Guilford County’s children age 0-5 live in households with all parents employed. In Forsyth it was 60 percent. And families who earn just above the cut-off for government subsidies are spending 20 to 22 percent of their total income on childcare.

Five days of daycare a week for an infant or pre-schooler runs from roughly $125 to $250 – that’s $6,500 to $13,000 a year. And that’s just for one child. Add to that the cost of another pre-schooler or the price of after-school care for older kids and you’ll get a good idea of what most working families face.

And yes, there is a child-care credit on federal income tax forms – a paltry $3,000 for a single child and $6,000 for two or more children, which may take away some of the sting, but not until the end of the year, after these expenses are paid for out of pocket.

This is a situation that’s not going away, yet little to nothing has been done to ease the burdens of working families as they struggle to both raise their children and pay their bills on time. And it’s typical of modern American life that the issue has been left to the whims of the private sector.

There are plenty of situations where the US government has felt compelled to step in and subsidize an industry – airlines, savings and loans, certain crops, steel, coal, athletic stadiums, even Wal-Mart has received more than $1 billion in subsidies since it incorporated in 1962.

Yet our greatest resource, our children, are forgotten in this schematic, and their parents are left to wonder if having a family and making a living are mutually exclusive endeavors.

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