When my husband, Blaine, and I decided that we were ready to start a family, we were still on the fence over whether we’d have two or three children. I come from a family with four kids, and I loved always having someone to play with, someone to irritate and someone to have my back. I was leaning toward three kids—in the abstract, of course. I didn’t have any idea how difficult newborns can be or how hard it is to juggle young kids with a busy career.
But then we started doing the math.
We researched the cost of diapers, child care, extra-curricular activities and post-secondary education. We factored in the rate of inflation. We compared our salaries and conservatively estimated how our income would go up as we gained experience and responsibility in our jobs. With the final tally, it was pretty clear: Having three kids would make things extremely tight. The biggest factor? Daycare. After paying for two kids to go to daycare in Toronto from the age of one to four, when they start junior kindergarten, our family will pay approximately $86,000. Did you just spit your coffee at your phone or computer screen? Yeah, me, too. For six years of daycare, we will have paid an average of $14,400 per kid per year. Yep, I just spit out the rest of my coffee.
And we are far from alone: A new report out today from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA)—the latest instalment in a series of surveys beginning in 2014—indicates that Canada is in a child care crisis in some parts of the country. (The report summarizes findings from a phone survey of regulated, full-day, licensed child care homes, centres and agencies conducted from June through October 2017. It doesn’t include subsidized daycare spaces.) Not surprisingly, Toronto has the most expensive daycare fees for infants, toddlers and preschoolers—it will cost you a whopping $21,096 a year to send your baby to a full-time centre or regulated home care.
Let me put this into perspective for you: In 2016, the average national household income for a dual-pay cheque family was just north of $70,000. According to the new CCPA report, if you’re living in Quebec, Manitoba or PEI, you’re probably able to manage your child care costs better because these provinces fund daycare operationally and the average monthly cost for preschool care is between $178 (Montreal) and $568 (Charlottetown). But if you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, Calgary or Vancouver, you’re looking at an average of at least $1,000 a month. And what if you have an infant and a toddler in child care at the same time? Well, good luck to you. In Toronto, you’ll need to find $1,758 each month for your baby and $1,354 each month for your older child.
This isn’t a new story. We all get it: Daycare is expensive. But today’s report spells out just how difficult it is to manage the daycare years, financially, in all corners of the country.
And in some communities, the fees are still rising at an astronomical rate. In Toronto, preschool fees are up 21 percent from three years ago; in Edmonton, they’re 19 percent. In Burnaby, BC, and London, Ont., you’re looking at 11 percent. In 2017, the highest month-over-month general inflation rate was just over two percent. So, what’s happening in the child care sector? I once joked to my husband that our daycare better have Curtis Stone as its in-house chef for that kind of price increase. But when you break down the significant financial burden on families, it’s actually not funny at all. It means that families are forced to rely on unregulated child care, which—while it can be wonderful, depending on the provider— obviously means no oversight.
The struggle doesn’t even end with the dollar value. The report also summarizes the serious shortage of child care spaces across the nation: In some communities, like London and Kitchener, Ont., and Saskatoon and Regina, Sask., the number of daycare centres with wait lists sits between 90 and 100 percent. Wait list fees are going down, which is a positive, but it’s a cold comfort when you’re on 47 waiting lists with only a few months of mat leave to go. I remember pouncing on my phone like I used to as a teenager, needing to answer before one of my aforementioned siblings did, waiting for news of an opening.
Affordability and accessibility fuel the conversation of daycare in our country, and reports like the one released today certainly help close the “data gap” that emerged when the statistics went unreported. But data collection isn’t enough. Now our country’s leaders need to figure out how to help, from coast to coast. The only good news? At least Blaine and I know that we can almost, maybe, come close to covering the cost of a post-secondary education in 2029. Because daycare is costing us nearly as much.