Profile of An American Family in 2020: How to Pay Child Care Bills – Fatherly

Posted: October 28, 2020 at 6:53 pm

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Most Americans do not live very political lives. Many dont think about politics at all. Some 47 percent of the population didnt weigh in on the 2016 presidential campaign, one of the most polarizing in American history. On average, some 100 million Americans who are eligible to vote in each election in the past 12 years choose not to. Why? According to a Knight Foundation study, its because they have less faith in electoral systems, are less engaged in the news, and simply arent sure who to vote for. For so many parents, its simpler: They dont have faith that policy will help them get through the day. Affordable healthcare and child care are a distant hope for many, as is having enough of a cushion to get back up when jobs are lost. Who has time to follow debates when you have two jobs? Who has time to get political when you have only a handful of hours to see your kids?

The stakes have only risen in 2020. With a sky-high unemployment rate, a pandemic-fueled exodus of working parents (especially moms), and economic disparity that has not been seen in our lifetime, its easy to paint a bleak picture. Politicians are doing just that stoking fears and painting in broad strokes that depict an aspect of American life, but hardly a full picture.

So what does American life really look like for parents in 2020? We wanted to know and went out in search of a more realistic portrayal of it. In our search, we found Miriam Cruz. Cruz, 35, lives in Santa Clara, California, where she is raising two children an 12-year-old and 1-year-old with her partner, Cliff, 32, and her mother. The primary struggle of the Cruz household is child care, something that takes up 40 percent of Miriams income. In America, this is close to the norm, where it costs around $15,000 per year to provide child care for an infant, or 22 percent of the median household income. This is, needless to say, a struggle for most parents. Miriam is no exception.

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BEFORE THE PANDEMIC,Miriam Cruz had never had to pay for child care. Her mother, who lives with her and her partner, Cliff Sr., cared for her 1-year-old son, Cliff Jr. But her nightshift got cut because of COVID and she was forced to work days again. With grandma working a different shift, there was no one to watch Cliff Jr. So, now, Miriam and Cliff must pay $140 a day for a neighbor to babysit.

Our need for child care is an indirect result of the pandemic, says Cliff Sr. We wouldnt need it if things were like they were.

Its an expense the Cruz-Henderson family wasnt prepared for, but theyre making it work. They have to. Miriam is a court supervisor in the Santa Clara, California, court system. Cliff is a court interpreter. They need to be a dual-income household to make ends meet. Staying home permanently to watch Cliff Jr. was never an option.

Miriams day starts at 6 a.m. and ends around midnight. When she wakes, she prepares Cliff Jr.s food as well as supplies for his sitter. After that, she makes sure Anthony, her 12-year-old, is set up for remote school. At 12 years old, he wont go back to the physical classroom until at least 2021. So now, he sits down in front of the computer every single day from 8:30 to 12, alone in the house for a few hours. Miriam makes sure he has lunch ready, whether its in the form of a scheduled Uber Eats delivery or made from leftovers in the fridge. Then shes out the door.

Cliff Sr. sleeps in until 7, and hes out the door just as quickly. Hes glad to be working at all. From March until late June, his court interpreting work as a contactor essentially dried up.

My work depends on court overflow, he says. There are interpreters who are employees who work at the courts. But theres always a need for extra, which is why Im usually able to work every day. The courts were shuttered when the pandemic hit. Fewer court cases mean fewer interpreters were needed.

While work picked up for Cliff Sr., hes still making, he estimates, nearly 25-percent less than he was before the pandemic. Thats because a huge part of his work was also through depositions and non-court related appearances. Those dried up, too.

All this means that the Cruz-Henderson family budget is tight. Not only are they on the hook for an additional $700 a week in child care, but their grocery costs have also increased because Anthony eats two extra meals a day at home. Anthony qualified for reduced-cost meals at school. He would get two meals (breakfast and lunch) for free for five days a week. But, while Santa Clara schools are doing their best and provide free lunch every day for students at pick-up-locations, the program just isnt accessible for homes like the Cruz-Hendersons, where there are two working parents. No one can pick up the meals.

I know this is extreme, Miriam says, but the kids are home all day, and theyre just eating. My groceries have doubled in cost. Im at work. I cant be driving by to go get [the school-provided] meals.

Miriams work has also been affected by the pandemic. In the beginning, when stay-at-home orders hit, the Santa Clara Courts were faced with tightening budgets and decided to move everyone to 32 hours a week or four days with a slight pay cut. It was either that or layoffs. Now, Miriam spends half her time working at the courts in person, and the other half at home attending depositions via Zoom. Miriams glad to have her job, but the belt-tightening is getting to the point where theyve had to punch more holes in the leather.

Her work-from-home schedule does, at least, have one advantage: Shes home with Anthony and can try to keep an eye on him while she does her own work. Still, add this onto a sometimes-not-perfect child care situation for her youngest, and the fact that Zoom school has technical difficulties and limits her son socio-emotionally, and its by no means what it was before. Her son misses being in actual school. He misses his friends, and he misses playing sports. Cliff Jr. is too young to know what hes missing but old enough to be a handful.

Miriam and Cliff Sr. dont see their current situation as impossible. But it is precarious. Cliff Sr. picks the baby every day after work, where he takes over until Miriam gets home. From there, its another rush of activities. Cliff makes sure Anthony has done his homework; then Miriam arrives and they both exercise while Anthony babysits for an hour. Afterward, Miriam starts on dinner. They eat. Miriams mom returns from work around 7 and the next few hours are dedicated to bedtime and next-day preparations. They might go on an evening walk. Miriam might do some work on her side life coaching business. Cliff Sr. might work on some music. If both of them are lucky, theyll be asleep by midnight.

None of this schedule, of course, includes the standard parenting issues that occur throughout the days and weeks. Anthonys school has been tricky for Miriam to navigate. In the beginning, she was relieved that her son understood what at-home school required and did his work.

Im super grateful that he is actually afraid of me and he knows he has consequences, she said when he first began school. So he knows that he needs to be logged on at 8:30.

But this bliss only lasted a few weeks. A teacher called and told her that Anthony had nine assignments missing. And Anthony is bored. Hes tired of being on the computer the Playstation, just a few feet away, beckons in between classes and he misses his friends.

He doesnt enjoy Zoom classrooms, or the homework, or doing things electronically, she says. Im trying to keep him motivated.

Miriam understands that Anthony is her responsibility and no one elses. But at this point, especially in the times shes working from home, it feels like its another full-time-job on top of her full-time job. There are none of the supports that exist in a normal school environment. No counseling hours. No tutoring sessions.

I understand that its a parents responsibility, she says one Friday afternoon when shes furloughed from the court. But its a whole job in and of itself to get your kid to do their homework and the follow-ups, and things like that. If we had a little bit more support from the teachers in regards to missing assignments, or maybe just more communication

Miriam drifts off. Nine missing assignments that have to be done online for a kid who is already tired of being online all day?

Im not on the school website every day. Im working. I have so many other things going on. And to be honest, he didnt do them because he didnt want to, and now Im battling with my child, she says. Hes here all day and hes sick of being on the computer. As a mother, its my responsibility. But sometimes, its a little bit too much.

These are normal stresses of parenthood. Sometimes kids dont do assignments. But now, during the pandemic, such small events can carry enormous weight.

Do Miriam and Cliff Sr. think the way their life is right now is sustainable? For Miriam, it oscillates. It is a struggle. But, she says, shes in the best shape of her life ever since her bout with postpartum depression, shes had a consistent routine of Zoom exercise classes at least three days a week, has been in charge of her mental health and eats better than ever. Cliff, meanwhile, has stepped up along with her and things are looking up at work. They love each other, theyre happy people, and theyre handling the things the best they can through healthy coping mechanisms and a healthy perspective.

But theres something they both appear to agree on: Whatever theyve managed to cobble together in terms of child care to get through this time could be much better, much cheaper, or much more helpful.

A few weeks ago, the next-door neighbor who babysits abruptly canceled on Miriam because she feared she had been exposed to COVID-19. The move was one made out of a concern for safety, but Miriam didnt have enough time to find child care. No centers are open near them. Miriam was lucky enough to be working from home and could sit Cliff Jr. on her lap when she attended depositions. But it certainly wasnt ideal.

Miriam and Cliff Sr. are thinking about taking Cliff Jr. out of child care altogether on the off-weeks when Miriam works from home. It will save them $1,400 per month. It wont be easy. But its something theyre considering.

Its hard for Miriam and Cliff Sr. to imagine the government cant be doing more than it is. Maybe its incompetence she brings up the fact that nail salons in her area are open well before schools are or maybe its that the government just doesnt seem to know how to help.

Because of the pandemic, we do now have to pay child care because of what happened with Miriams mother, Cliff says when asked if he thinks theres anything the government could do to help. But it seems like an uphill battle to make a case for that.

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Profile of An American Family in 2020: How to Pay Child Care Bills - Fatherly

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October 28th, 2020 at 6:53 pm

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