By Karen D’Souza
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Research shows that over the past four years, the median cost of childcare in the nine-county Bay Area increased 40 percent. In San Francisco and Marin counties, the median cost rose more than 50 percent.
While most people are fast asleep, Alexis Gasperecz works the graveyard shift at a homeless shelter for veterans.
Around 8 a.m., when her shift ends, she leaves to take care of her children, Brielle, 11 months old, and King, 3, until about 6:30 p.m. when her boyfriend Darrin Davis and his mother return from their jobs for the childcare hand-off. By midnight, it’s time for Gasperecz to go back to work. If she’s lucky, she’s squeezed in three or four hours sleep.
“I’m completely exhausted,” says the 32-year-old mother who lives in Oakland but spends most nights in San Francisco near work at grandma’s house, where her family stays during the week. “As a mother, I feel I have no other choice. My kids need me to provide for them so I do what I’ve got to do.”
Much like the hunt for a place to live in the Bay Area, the search for child care is getting harder as prices rise.
Over the past four years, the median cost of childcare in the nine-county Bay Area increased 40 percent, according to research from Oakland’s Insight Center for Community Economic Development. In San Francisco and Marin counties, the median cost rose more than 50 percent.
“It’s much worse than it used to be. It’s a real struggle for families,” says Colette Kudumu, director of compliance for the Community Childcare Council of Santa Clara County, or the 4C Council, a childcare referral agency. “The reality of what many families are facing is a nightmare.”
One East Bay mother searching for childcare said she called 60 places before her daughter was born. A working mom in Walnut Creek said at one point, her nanny made more money than she did. Another quit working altogether because the cost of childcare gobbled up her entire salary.
Gasperecz has been on a waiting list for subsidized childcare in San Francisco for two years. She and her boyfriend can’t afford the market rate, which averages about $1,718 a month for one child in San Francisco, on their salaries, particularly since King is autistic. And she can’t work a day shift, though it might mean a promotion, because she has to watch her kids. Her schedule feels even more crushing because she’s three and a half months pregnant, suffering from nausea and dying for a good long nap.
“It’s tough but seeing those smiling little faces pushes me to do my best,” says Gasperecz. “It would cost our whole paycheck just to pay for childcare.”
In the last few years, as Bay Area real estate has become less affordable, it’s been harder for childcare providers to find spaces to operate. That’s a key reason prices have gone up, experts say.
In the last decade, there’s been a 14 percent decline in the number of home child care providers in the Bay Area, according to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network.
Solano County has seen the steepest drop at 34 percent, the group said. Contra Costa County has seen a 27 percent decline.
In 2017, the network said, just 23 percent of children who need childcare in California had a spot available. For infants, who require more care and attention, it’s far worse, with only enough spots for about 5 percent of babies.
Last year, infant care cost $19,212 a year in Santa Clara County and $18,543 in Alameda County compared to a national average of about $9,000 to $9,600 a year, according to Child Care Aware of America.
At an average of $16,542 a year, infant care in California costs more than the average annual cost of college tuition at a U.C. school, which is $12,570.
“There is a crisis in childcare,” says Sandee Blechman, executive director of Children’s Council of San Francisco, where 2,500 families are waiting for subsidized care. “Politicians are fretting about the cost of housing, but a lot of people pay more for childcare.”
Tiffany Miller winces at the price of childcare. She finds herself counting the days until her children, Zaashila, 4, and Rio, 19 months, are old enough to go to public school, which will cut down on costs.
“Childcare is a constant and ongoing struggle for my family,” says Miller, a mother of two from Walnut Creek who works full-time in pharmaceutical research. She declined to share how much she spends on care. Her husband works for the Social Security Administration. “Honestly, it blows my mind how much we pay for childcare. Just a few years, ago I was making less than the nanny.”
Lisa Rothman was so stung by the cost of childcare that she put her radio career as an executive producer at KPFA on hold so she could raise her boys, Ezra, 12, and Murray, 10.
“The amount I was going to pay the childcare center equaled my salary,” says Rothman, 46, who lives in Oakland and has turned her parenting adventures into a solo show, “Dragon in the Drop-Off Lane,” at Berkeley’s Marsh theater. “By the time you paid the taxes it was game over.”
Working-class parents must often piece together a patchwork quilt of childcare options that includes family, friends and neighbors. Even if they can afford a licensed childcare provider, that facility can’t watch their children if they work nights or weekends.
Even parents who can afford to pay find the hunt in the Bay area is long. Meaghan Tiernan of Oakland started looking while she was pregnant with her daughter Avery, who is now 5 months old. She said she contacted about 60 preschools and day care centers. Only 15 responded. Among them: a place that cost $4,000 a month with onsite chefs, organic food and compostable diapers.
“Everything felt extremely competitive,” says Tiernan, 32. “I felt like you had very little time to determine whether you felt like it was a good fit and just wanted to take it because it was there.”
It reminded her a lot of the arduous, stress-filled process of trying to buy a house in the Bay Area.
“It feels like you’re set up to fail,” says Tiernan, a freelance writer.
For Gasperecz, childcare seems out of reach. She is as used to working all night as she is to having her children follow her around all day. But she says the help she gets from family gets her through.
“I know that I can count on Darrin and the grandmas to pick up my slack on days that I just have no energy,” she says. “It’s been a team effort between us since King was born three years ago. It’s kind of just become a way of life.”
Most women brace for having a baby, fearing the blur of sleepless nights and aching muscles to come. Not Gasperecz. She can’t wait to have some family time, having dinner together or tucking the kids into bed.
“I’m looking forward to having the baby so I can catch a break,” she says with a sigh, “and finally get some sleep.”