Endless Summer: For Working Parents, the Long Break Comes at a High Cost

School is out, summer is here, and for working parents, the question of how to care for the kids. According to Center for American Progress, New Yorkers with children can expect to pay about 35 percent of their earnings on summer programs. For many parents, the long school break means close to three months of camp, daycare, and other care options that come at a great expense, making the summer months a financial hardship.

Head shot photo of Laurie MaldonadoLaurie Maldonado, who worked with the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality at The Graduate Center for several years, recently talked to us about the challenges working parents face with summer child care in the United States, in comparison with other countries, and shared her personal experience as a single parent/co-parent in New York.

How do you manage the summer months?
Summertime requires quite a bit of coordination to balance work and care for my seven-year-old son. My son’s father and I are separated and co-parent, and we coordinate the summer weeks evenly. I have flexibility during the summer months as long as I meet the intense demands to research and publish. When my son is with his father, I work. When my son is with me, I care. I’m very grateful that I have vacation time and my son and I travel to visit family. One downside to our arrangement is that my son does not attend any summer activities, programs, or camps, because they are too expensive.
Child care in the summer, and throughout the year, is much more supported in Europe. My partner lives in Belgium and co-parents three daughters. Their summer calendar is very similar to ours, but the big difference is that his daughters attend activities and camps for about three weeks: dance, tennis, youth camp, and violin. These activities are at reasonable to little cost to Belgian families because they are supported by the community and in part subsidized by the government. Most regions have in place summer activities that might only cover a part of the summer, but still they are subsidized and are at a fraction of the cost of summer programs in the United States. For the most part, these activities and opportunities are accessible to all children living in Belgium.

I would love for my son to have access to these same activities and opportunities. I think most American parents would want this enrichment for their children. In fact, many Americans would want all children to have equitable access to such opportunities.
How is the lack of affordable summer child care options in the United States an inequality issue?
The summer months bring many child-care challenges for working parents in the United States, and this raises serious concerns about inequality. There are some options, like free summer camps in New York City. However, these are very limited and many are lottery-based and in high demand. Parents who can afford to send their children to summer camp can keep working during the summer while their children have enrichment opportunities. Those that can’t afford it are left to improvise, juggle, and struggle, doing whatever they can to fill in the gaps.

It’s particularly hard for single parents and for their children. Single parents face a triple bind of inadequate resources, employment, and policy, which is more taxing during the summer months. Single parents tend to rely on grandparents, relatives, and neighbors to provide child care coverage; however, these informal networks often break down.

Huge differences exist between the haves and the have-nots in high quality child care during the summer months. Some kids will spend their summer with a low-paid babysitter watching television while others will learn to swim at camp.
How are other countries supporting children and families?
Working parents in other countries can take long vacations during the summer months to spend with their families. In fact, The World Policy Data shows that many countries have more than 20 days of annual leave per year to take off work as they wish. The United States is among a few countries in the world — India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan — without a national policy for paid annual leave.
The United States is truly an outlier, especially among wealthy countries. I’ve looked at more than 50 countries, using the LIS data — and we find that the U.S. lacks a social safety net and without many policies that support families. 
Countries that do well for families provide policies that include a social safety net, child benefits, paid family leave, paid annual leave, and high-quality and affordable early childhood education and care throughout the school year and summer.
These policies benefit all families. Especially those who need it the most. They help close the gap in the inequality between working parents and between the opportunities that children have in the summer.

Laurie Maldonado is currently a professor at CUNY’s Medgar Evers College. She is the editor, with Rense Nieuwenhuis, of The Triple Bind of Single-Parent Families and was featured in Why Single-Parent Families Are in a Triple Bind.

Photo credit: Alex Irklievski

Submitted on: JUN 18, 2019

Category: General GC News | Stone Center