Richmond families feeling strain as childcare costs continue to rise statewide

New study shows Virginia sports 9th most expensive child care in the country
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Posted at 6:20 PM, Oct 13, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Life for Christine Lockerby has been full of scooters and smiles since her son Nico entered the world 18 months ago.

On a gorgeous fall day at Lombardy Park, the duo was playing with family and friends.

"Things that were important to you before now are not as important because you find yourself wanting to prioritize the kid and spend time with the kid and doing what you need to do make things best for him," Lockerby said.

Before Nico was born, Lockerby said their family got on several wait lists for local daycares, but once her maternity leave ended at work months later, they still did not have a spot secured and ran out of options.

“Whatever options were available last minute was a place I didn’t feel comfortable sending him. We crunched the numbers and figured out that me staying home with him would be the best option for our family," Lockerby said.

Crunching the numbers and making difficult financial decisions is the reality for almost every new family in Virginia because of the cost of childcare.

The problem persists nationwide, but a new study by the United Way of the National Capital Area found childcare costs in Virginia are the 9th most expensive in the country.

The average cost of childcare in the Commonwealth is $14,560 per year, according to the study, which is more than the annual in-state tuition and fees (only) at James Madison University and George Mason University.

"What’s more, the cost burden increases again when we look at households with multiple children in need of childcare in Virginia. A family paying for childcare for two children in VA can expect to pay at least $1,417 monthly and $17,004 annually on childcare," the study said.

"Daycare was already going to be half my take-home pay. Once we had a second kid, we knew it was going to be all my income," Lockerby said.

Low-income Virginians bear the largest burnt of financial hardship because of the childcare crisis. Based on income levels, low-income Virginians on average spend 25% to 60% of their monthly income on childcare, according to the study.

"We’re kind of barely able to get by on one income. I think it's tough for people who don't have that as an option, who can't even pay their basic bills on one income. And so, you have to put your kid in a childcare situation that you don't feel comfortable with because it's what you can afford," Lockerby said.

Safe facilities and well-trained staff are expensive for a reason. For Lockerby and many families, the childcare crisis is a head-scratching catch-22.

“It's really hard because to have good quality childcare it costs a lot of money, but people can't spend their whole paycheck just paying for childcare," Lockerby said. "I think in today's economy, especially it's really hard to live off of just one income. So that model doesn't work anymore. And people don't have the network and community that can watch their kids for them, either. So yeah, I don't know what the solution is, but we need one.”

State researchers and the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission have also been studying childcare costs and will release their findings about the situation in Virginia on Monday. You can read more about the United Way study here.

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