EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — After her second child was born this spring, Elyce Loper thought she would stay home with her children.
But the potential downsides of only one parent working provided too much insecurity, so she decided she had to go back to work.
“It was just a little bit too nerve-wracking for my husband and I,” Loper said. “Even though like an entire paycheck goes to day care.”
Loper’s situation is similar to that of families across the country and South Jersey.
In Atlantic County, the cost of day care can consume nearly 18 percent of a family’s income for just one infant, according to a 2013 report by Child Care Aware of New Jersey.
The annual cost of center-based child care in Atlantic County for one child under 18 months old was $9,620, the report said. Results were similar in Cape May and Cumberland counties. The cost is similar to in-state tuition at Stockton University this year, state data show.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child care is considered affordable if it is less than 10 percent of a family’s budget.
Loper said she was “shocked” at some of the prices.
“I couldn’t find a lot that took infants and then pretty much that ones that did were extremely expensive,” she said.
Loper said she pays $310 a week for both her children, or $16,120 a year.
The issue affects thousands of New Jersey families.
In the state, there are 251,540 children under the age of 6 in two-parent families where both parents work, according to Child Care Aware of America. An additional 160,491 children under 6 are part of single-parent families where the parent works, the organization states.
Child care, much like education, is a labor-intensive service, which is a large factor in the cost, officials said.
Jean Sidway, director at English Creek Academy in Egg Harbor Township, said local facilities are trying to stay competitive while providing a safe, educational environment.
“They’re learning through different experiences just everything that they need to know to get them ready for kindergarten,” Sidway said.
At English Creek Academy, the full-time cost for a 3-year-old, potty-trained child is $10,556 a year.
“We remain competitive with area schools, and we try not to raise our tuitions too often, probably every other year. We’re doing a minimal, maybe 3 percent raise when we do that,” Sidway said.
For children who are not potty-trained, the cost increases slightly depending on age. For infants, the cost is $13,468 a year.
Sidway said a large part of the tuition goes to keeping a low ratio of children to caregivers. There are about 160 children at the center on any given day, Sidway said, adding the ratio of children per teacher increases as the children get older.
For infants, there must be one teacher for four babies. The ratio increases to one teacher per 10 children for 2.5- and 3-year-olds.
At One Love Daycare II in Egg Harbor Township, which can care for up to 28 children, the cost for a child over 12 months old, full-time, is $140 a week for potty-trained or $160 a week for nonpotty-trained. Under 12 months old is $170 a week, she said. That’s between $7,280 and $8,840 a year.
Owner Nicole Mistroff said she focuses on providing an all-natural experience for the children, including the use of organic and green products, while keeping ratios and costs down.
Mistroff said her facility accepts almost all forms of payment to make it convenient for parents, including credit cards and state subsidies.
In New Jersey, the Department of Human Services offers a Child Care Subsidy Program for low- to moderate-income working families and for Work First New Jersey recipients.
Locally, the programs are administered through Rutgers. For a family of four, the maximum allowable gross annual income to be eligible for subsidies is $48,600.
Nicole Brossoie, spokeswoman for Human Services, said the subsidy helps parents maintain steady incomes by allowing them to work.
Recently, presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have proposed plans to reduce the cost of child care for families across America.
Trump’s proposal includes a rebate of up to $1,200 per year for low-income families, tax deductions for child care costs for up to four children for families making less than $500,000 a year and incentives for businesses to provide child care to employees.
Clinton proposes capping child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income, access to child care on campuses, doubled investment in Early Head Start programs, universal preschool for all 4-year-old children and better wages for child care employees.
Local parents say the cost of child care needs be addressed.
“From going from one to two kids in day care, our budget is really tight now,” Loper said. “I couldn’t even imagine what people with more kids do.”
Loper said she doesn’t follow politics but was happy to hear proposals are being put forward to help working families.
“It seems like the only programs are for people at the lowest income bracket, and I feel like there needs to be more options for working-class people like myself,” she said.
Monica Coffey, of Margate, said she was lucky to find a nanny to watch her children in her home while she is at work. The married mother of four used Care.com to find a child care provider.
Now that her daughters — ages 14, 14, 11 and 6 — are all in school, Coffey uses a nanny for after-school care. She pays $13 an hour.
Coffey said she had considered staying home to care for the children.
“But for us it was more financially beneficial for me to return to work,” she said. “In this area, it’s a hard decision to give up a good job even if the difference is that meaningful.”