Whether parents can find care, and what it costs them, depends on where they live. In Ontario, for instance, residents pay on average $925 a month for full-time licenced spots for a toddler – a rate that rises significantly in a big city. In Toronto, families who qualify for subsidized care find themselves on a waiting list with 20,000 others. Low-income parents in Vancouver receive a subsidized payment directly – but the maximum amount is hundreds of dollars short of the average monthly fee, which for toddlers is $1,200.
Even better-off families are going into debt to pay the daycare bills. To avoid not having care when it was time to return to work, Ms. Cousineau spent $7,420 just to save spots that opened while she was on maternity leave – a common and costly last-ditch option for young families already crunched financially in ways their parents never were. (Her family’s child-care costs amount to 70 per cent of her net monthly salary.)
Today, couples under 45 have an average household income that is roughly the same as in 1976 – despite the fact that they are more likely to be working longer hours and have two incomes and more education. According to research by Lynell Anderson, an accountant, and UBC researcher Paul Kershaw, it takes the average young family in Canada 10 years longer to save for a down payment on a house – 15 years, if they live in B.C., where housing costs have gone up 149 per cent in the last four decades.
Tara Mahoney, 30, the creator of Gen Why Media, a multimedia company in Vancouver that specializes in civic engagement, would like to start a family soon. But she’s deterred by friends trying to manage child care that costs more than their rent. “When I think about that equation, it doesn’t add up,” she says. “It’s not attainable.”
Her parents’ generation socked extra pennies away for their kids’ university bills; Ms. MacIntyre figures she’ll have to save for daycare.
Health-care costs and Old Age Security have created an uneven balance between the generations, says Prof. Kershaw, who leads Generation Squeeze, a campaign to highlight the spending shortfall in family policy. Per-capita spending on Canadians over 65 is now $45,000 versus about $12,000 for those under 45, he says.
“No one wants there to be intergenerational tension in society – and in families, certainly, no one wants to pit grandparents against grandchildren, but our budgets are at risk of doing that these days,” he says.
“In Canada, we haven’t moved forward because of cultural inertia.” Says Ms. Anderson: “We see parenting and young children as a private responsibility, and it’s been very hard for us to get past that. We really haven’t translated out thinking about collective responsibility into policy. It seems like it should be a slam dunk.”
As for government complaints that “the cupboard is bare,” Prof. Kershaw says, “the cupboard space is actually growing and growing. It’s just not being spent on young people.”
A growing number of business leaders, child-development experts and economists say that’s short-sighted budgeting.
“With all the benefits of early education,” Craig Alexander, the chief economist for Toronto-Dominion Bank, declared in a recent policy paper, “it begs the question why we don’t have more programs in place, and why it is not a high priority for policymakers.”
A few years ago, Warren Beach, now chief financial officer at Aritzia, heard Prof. Kershaw present the statistic that in British Columbia alone, businesses lose $600-million because of work-life conflict among families with young children. Mr. Beach didn’t buy it, so he checked the math himself – and came away convinced. He had also seen for himself the economic and social toll of poor daycare: his own family’s scramble on waiting lists, the coveted worker who didn’t return from maternity leave because of child-care issues. “There’s a cost to business, to us training and mentoring employees,” he says, “and then ultimately losing them.”