When my wife and I decided to have a baby, we knew it would be expensive. “So what,” we said, “we’ll figure it out.” We both work and, at least when our salaries are put together, earn a decent wage. Freshly married, we had just bought our first home, a small, affordable two-bedroom condo in downtown Toronto. And when our daughter was born we discovered we were right. We had a few added expenses – baby food, clothes, diapers, etc. – but even with my wife earning less than usual while on maternity leave, we were okay. We could even save a bit.
When our daughter had her first birthday, my wife went back to work, so we enrolled our daughter in a daycare, the cost of which averages around $1,600 a month ($73 a day, around $20,000 a year). Our daycare isn’t particularly fancy - the food isn’t organic (gasp!) - but it is registered, clean, the staff are great, and our daughter loves it.
Saying that, it’s still sixteen hundred freaking dollars a month. And we only have one kid. Maybe that’s not a lot of money for some people, but it is for us; it’s basically a second mortgage. And I don’t consider us to be poor; we’re starting our careers, sure, but together we earn more than $100,000 a year. Yet with our mortgage and other bills, we have barely enough to cover costs, and every dollar is budgeted. We don’t have a car. We don’t go out much anymore, which is ironic since part of the reason we bought a place downtown was to keep in touch with our friends. We’re thinking of cancelling our cable bill so we have more money for groceries. And forget about us saving anything for our future.
Clearly, something has to change, but what? Ideally our careers take off and we start earning more money, but who knows when that will happen. For now, our daughter has to stay in daycare; otherwise we can’t both work, and then we’d have even less money. We could move outside the city, but we love the city. Toronto, why do you make it so hard to love you?
The fact is, daycare costs come at a time when new parents likely have the least amount of money in their adult life: they’re fresh from school and frequently burdened with student debt; they’re just starting out in their careers and so are often earning entry-level wages; they’ve potentially made their first home purchase. You would think that the Canadian government, considering that our national birth-rate declined for the third straight year in 2011 to 1.61 children per woman (our population replacement level is 2.1 – a number we haven’t hit since 1971), would encourage young people to have babies by making daycare affordable. In Quebec, public daycare is $7 a day and private daycare is $35/day. In France, the government heavily subsidizes public daycare and the fees are means-tested to be between 50 cents to €10 ($14) a day.
Why aren’t the provincial or federal governments helping to lighten the load for our young families? But while we ponder that, perhaps my wife and I will hold off for the moment on having a second baby. Oh yeah, and I have to call Rogers.
Trevor Finn is a screenwriter working in the Toronto television industry.
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