Child Care Costs Are on the Rise, and Zoe Saldana Wants Employers to Pay for Them

If employer-paid child care is tough to come by even for an A-list celebrity, no doubt it's putting low-income parents and single mothers in a bind.
(Photo: Zoe Saldana/Facebook)
Jun 23, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Few companies offer paid maternity leave. Even fewer offer paid child care. Practically none provides paternity leave.

Zoe Saldana wants to change the status quo. In a recent interview with USA Today, the Guardians of the Galaxy star—who recently praised her husband for taking her last name—detailed the challenges facing working mothers: First, she nearly lost her job because employers said her pregnancy could be a scheduling conflict—that's typically called pregnancy discrimination in the nonacting world. Later,she was stuck working long hours without paid child care for her twin boys, now six months old.

While springing for a nanny likely won't break the bank for Saldana—whose starring-vehicle Avatar holds the record for the world's top-grossing film, raking in more than $2.8 billion—the actor says it's a matter of principle. It's also an example of the latest double standard in an industry laced with overt gender biases. From instances of being aged out of roles with much older male costars to reports of being underpaid compared with their male counterparts, women have it tougher than men in Hollywood.

Studios "spend more money sometimes 'perking' up male superstars in a movie," Saldana told USA Today, suggesting that studios offer her male costars lavish jets, yachts, and bodyguards. "But then a woman comes in going, 'OK, I have a child.... And then they go, 'Nope, we don't pay for nannies.'"

Let's be real: Even the most maternity-friendly tech giants won't pick up the tab for nannies, and Saldana is a multimillionaire who has the distinct privilege of negotiating it with her high-profile employer. While Saldana's strife isn't the most relatable, it points to a larger problem: If employer-paid child care is tough to come by even for an A-list celebrity, no doubt it's putting the rest of America in a bind—especially low-income parents and single mothers who spend a disproportionate percentage of their earnings on child care.

Just 7 percent of employers in the U.S. offer free child care, according to the 2014 National Study of Employers. The number of companies offering payment for child care with vouchers or other company-paid subsidies has steadily declined to 2 percent last year, down from 5 percent in 2008.

At the same time, child care costs increased more than 70 percent between 1985 and 2011 and now account for 7 to 16 percent of a married couple's median income, depending on the state, according to a 2014 report by Child Care Aware of America. That percentage jumps dramatically for low-income families and single mothers, who spend about half of their monthly earnings on child care expenses. Relief isn't expected anytime soon; child care costs are set to increase nearly 30 percent over the next four years.

So, Why Should You Care? The rising cost of child care has been cited as one possible reason for the decline in working mothers at a time when industries such as science, engineering, and technology are severely lacking in women employees. (Women in those fields are about 45 percent more likely than their male counterparts to leave within the year.) Stay-at-home moms now account for about 29 percent of all mothers, up from a modern-era low of 23 percent nearly two decades ago, according to the Pew Research Center.

In other parts of the world, where male-dominated cultures dictate that the responsibility of child care falls largely on mothers, high child care costs have also been linked to a widening gender gap and weakened economic opportunities for women.

It's bad enough that the United States is the only industrialized country that doesn't offer paid maternity leave. But unlike Zoe Saldana, many working mothers are faced with a tough ultimatum: Spend a large chunk of the paycheck on child care, or join the growing ranks of stay-at-home moms.