With rising child-care cost, many parents are paying to work

By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I really thought it wouldn't get much worse than the unpaid college internship.

I raced from that gig in my duct-taped car to make it to my paying job as a waitress. I barely scraped by.

But 20 years later, I'm horrified to realize that my ramen days were more lucrative than the illogical mess I've got going today.

Because right now, most weeks, I actually pay to work.

And I'm not the only one.

This is embarrassing and stupid and I didn't want to talk about it for a while. Only recently did I begin quietly commiserating with others on the playground and learn that this is a common rite of passage for many parents of young children, when child-care costs are at their highest.

"Glad to know I'm not the only one out there. I was starting to think I'm crazy for still working," one D.C. mom who works at a university told me.

It's a situation among middle-class and professional women that is becoming increasingly commonplace, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress and the Center for WorkLife Law at the UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

Their report looks at the "Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict" -- the poor, the middle class and the professionals -- and how America's status as the hardest-working developed nation in the world clashes with the reality that we also have the paltriest options for family support.

There is the familiar narrative of low-income parents who figure out that it pays more to leave the crummy, minimum-wage job and collect welfare at home than to get child care. And often, when they do work, they deal with substandard child care, erratic work schedules, no sick days, no health care and a host of other horrors.

But the report also focused on the "missing middle," American families that are squarely middle-income and are caught between being too well off for subsidized child care but making too little to enable one parent to stay home.

One possible solution might come with President Obama's proposal this week to double the child-care tax credit for families earning less than $85,000 and to increase federal funding of programs by $1.6 billion.

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