September 16 is National Working Parents Day, a day to celebrate those Americans who not only raise the next generation but also participate in the workforce to support their families and help keep the U.S. economy running. Though being a working parent is not unusual — 89.1% of families have at least one parent in the workforce — working parents do face unique challenges. And those challenges are becoming more complex as we move forward through economically, politically, and environmentally fraught times.
During a time of unprecedented inflation, political partisanship, and dire environmental warnings, and a historically scant social safety net, being a parent may have never been more challenging.
Working parents are struggling on many fronts. So, in honor of Working Parents Day, here are 14 things working parents want the rest of the world to know.
1. Child Care Costs Are Crushing Working Parents
A recent analysis found that most families expect to spend at least 20% of their entire income on child care. Rates for everything from private nannies to daycare centers to in-home child care providers have increased at mind-blowing rates since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the closure of nearly 16,000 child care centers during the first year of lockdown — an almost 10% decrease in available child care across the country.
Finding child care that is safe, reliable, and nearby is a Herculean task, and paying for it is damn near impossible.
More than 20% of families have been forced to choose for one parent to leave the workforce and provide care themselves, resulting in a considerable loss of income and financial stability.
Almost half of families have cut back on food spending to afford child care, and 31% of parents are considering working a second job — all to pay for child care, which in other developed countries is heavily funded by the government.
2. Working Parents Struggle To Pay For Essentials
Inflation is the word of the day and has been since the beginning of the year. Over the last 12 months, grocery prices have increased by 11.4%, and energy prices have gone up by almost 20%.
A recent survey from the Center for Law and Social Policy found that 66% of parents who received the Child Tax Credit struggled to pay for groceries after the payments expired.
3. Working Parents Have No Federal Paid Leave
As residents of one of only eight countries in the world with no federal paid leave policy — along with Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Suriname, Tonga, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Palau — American parents are constantly forced to choose between their children or their job.
Data shows that parents without paid leave lost $28 billion in wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees with no paid leave are forced to either lose necessary wages or come to work sick, potentially infecting coworkers. They may also be forced to send a sick child to school. And the lack of paid leave in this country only increases the wealth gap.
4. Working Parents Skip Doctors Visits Due To Healthcare Costs
A recent poll found that about half of adults in the United States don’t get the medical or dental care they need due to cost. The same poll found that a quarter of people don’t refill their prescriptions because they can’t afford to.
The average yearly health insurance premium for a family is more than $22,000, usually with an exorbitant several-thousand-dollar deductible per person to be paid out-of-pocket before benefits even begin. So it should come as no surprise that almost 10% of the population is uninsured, almost 5 million of whom are children.
With healthcare costs so high, it’s no wonder that many parents skip health care for themselves altogether and only seek care for their children in emergencies.
5. Working Parents Work Long Hours
It’s not unusual for parents to spend less than two hours with their children per day, and those hours are usually filled with homework, meals, and bedtime routines. Long work hours, after-school activities, commutes, and errands mean less time spent enjoying each other’s company and more time just getting the basics done before bedtime, and then starting all over again the next day. Though many companies have begun to offer four-day workweeks — helping working parents claw back some of their work-life balance — this is so far a luxury, not a reality, for most parents, and a white-collar perk.
6. Working Parents Are Worried About Their Kids’ Safety
School gun violence is rampant, and sending children out the door every morning is an exercise in terror for many parents. There have been 29 school shootings that resulted in the deaths of 25 children so far in 2022 alone. Clear backpacks and metal detectors in elementary schools are not keeping children safe, and a lax approach at firearm laws in the United States (where there are more guns than people) means that every time a child walks through the doors of their school, their life is at risk.
7. Public Schools Are Underfunded, And Asked To Do Too Much
Even before COVID-19, public education was in crisis in the United States. In the decade before the 2007 Great Recession, budget cuts decimated public schools nationwide. And although the economy stabilized, most of that money was not put back into schools.
What schools perform are usually the wealthy ones — backed by property taxes in wealthy neighborhoods — while poorer schools struggle. Class sizes have increased, and at the same time, so has a litany of problems: child hunger, teacher shortages, a growth in segregation, a need for far more resources to deal with a more diverse student body, legislation that hurts LGBTQ+ kids. Teachers, who are supposed to teach, are dealing with poverty and inequity issues — hungry kids, kids who need basic goods — while trying to teach math.
Parents could homeschool, sure, and many do. But for many families, homeschooling is beyond the realm of possibility, and is not equally regulated. In most two-parent families, both parents work, and one income can’t be sacrificed. And homeschooling isn’t cheap — it costs an average of around $2,000 per child per year just for curriculum, supplies, and organization fees. In many states, those costs are not tax-deductible, and there are no credits or reimbursements for home education.
8. Working Parents Worry That They Won't Be Able To Retire
Recent data suggests that more than 50% of parents will not have enough money to retire. When budgeting week to week and paycheck to paycheck, saving a nest egg for retirement can feel impossible.
Plus, new data shows that adult children are moving home at a staggering rate, and parents are footing the bill. Thirty-five percent of parents with adult children at home have delved into retirement savings to support them, and 50% of parents shell out as much as $1,000 per month to grown kids.
9. Student Loan Debt Majorly Impacts Working Parents
More than 20% of families have student loan debt. The average amount of that debt is $22,000, and monthly payments can be as high as $500 to $600 per month.
Most of those payments go to interest. So even if working parents consistently make their payments as agreed, their principal balances don’t go down and, in some cases, can even increase, leaving them owing more 15 years later than they did when they signed their FAFSA before their freshman year.
Drowning in student loan debt means many families can’t afford to purchase a home or have additional children, and many struggle to make ends meet at all. President Biden’s loan forgiveness package will help address the symptoms of the student loan crisis, but it doesn’t cure the root cause — capitalized interest and runaway tuition costs.
10. Many Working Parents Can’t Afford To Only Work One Job
As of 2019, 13 million Americans worked multiple jobs, and most of those workers were women. Many parents are forced to earn additional income, separate from what they earn from their primary job, just to make ends meet. Whether that means joining the gig economy for a few hours a by delivering food or providing rideshares, freelancing, or taking on a traditional part-time job, parents are stretching themselves thin to pay the bills.
With inflation at a 40-year high and costs for everything (except gas) continuing to rise, the extra income can mean food on the table and money in the bank for struggling families.
11. Working Parents Struggle To Put Healthy Food On The Table
As mentioned, grocery prices are on the rise, leaving many parents grasping for healthy food choices. For many families, school-provided meals are the only dependable nutrition available, but pandemic-era school lunch programs are ending, and some states are considering ending school meal programs altogether, leaving children hungry.
Coupled with research showing that the foods children eat can have long-lasting impacts on everything from their intelligence to physical and mental health, the pressure and guilt of not providing organic, grass-fed everything can be overwhelming.
12. Working Parents Struggle With The Unpredictability Of Shift Work
Working a set schedule is necessary for parents when things such as child care and school drop-offs are fixed, and rescheduling them is sometimes impossible. A surprise shift change can cause a domino effect of stress as parents try to accommodate inflexible scheduling while ensuring that their children’s needs are met.
On top of that, research has shown that having parents who are shift workers or have otherwise unpredictable schedules can negatively impact kids, who thrive on routine as a rule. Fair workweek laws would make life a lot easier for shift working parents — and their children.
13. It Feels Impossible To Be A Good Parent And A Good Worker
With the general lack of support from the government and employers, it’s impossible for parents to find “work-life balance.” In our modern, always-on world, the borders between work life and home life bleed into one another. Parents bring work home, whether answering emails on a Friday evening or spending a weekend day finishing a report. Refusing to spend that time at home doing work often brands parents as bad workers, while taking time away from family pursuits leads to the label of bad parent. Some countries have laws like the “Right To Disconnect” — a law that enshrines a worker’s legal right to not have to log back on to work after their eight hours a day. Unfortunately, no such law exists in the United States.
Work-life balance is a working parent’s unicorn, and many parents feel it's impossible to excel in both arenas.
14. Working Parents Deserve More
The United States practically stands alone in its lack of policy protections for working parents. Though there are welfare programs, they are underfunded, wrapped up in yellow tape, and are hard to access for many. They are often time-limited — only giving family support for a specific period of time — and many programs require parents to work.
The United States has no federal paid leave program, no universal pre-k or three-k program, no universal, federally funded child care program, has underfunded public schools, and very little in the way of workplace supports such as a strong minimum wage or rent protections. It’s hard to be a working parent, and it would be a lot less difficult if the financial realities of parenting were a bit more easy to handle.
Programs like the Child Tax Credit, which slashed child poverty and hunger, were a welcome boon — but that, too, has gone to the wayside, and parents are struggling to figure it out in the meantime. As such, working parents need help and support from the government and their community.