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The Middle-Class Squeeze

Georgia lawmakers get set to turn the screws

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Child care

Just turn the paycheck over

Daylynn Quinn, 45, teaches English at a college in Atlanta. Since she's moved here, she's struggled to pay for child care for her now-10-year-old daughter TwoDayy.

My daughter was exactly a year old when I went back to work. It was easy then. We resided with her father in Delaware. I worked the evening at a bank, from five to 10 and he worked the day. Then my relationship dissolved. I moved to Georgia in August 1998.

I put her in a home day care that cost about $200 a month.

When you go to a storefront you got to pay for the storefront. You're paying $85 dollars a week and it works out to $5,000 a year just for somebody to watch them. The teacher, oh my goodness she was awesome. The room looked like a store. Everything you would want a pre-K child to know about numbers and colors and reinforcement, she had available. It was an awesome two years.

By the time she got to grade school, you have to do aftercare. There's always somebody that will keep them for money. Her school has an aftercare that's $12 a day. It's a dollar a minute if you're late. Only once last Christmas I overestimated the time and I was 40 minutes late and I coughed up $40. There was nothing wrong with the school. It was just a little more costly. You look around for safe places, safety's first, then affordability. A lot of times I would just pay the money for the safety until something else came up.

Two summers ago, she stayed at the nursery at the technical college. That was a lot of money and the school didn't give breaks to teachers. They gave it to students, but not to teachers. How dumb.

Now she's with a small aftercare because I really wanted to help a fledging business and it was better for me. She's been there about a year. I might've been the first client. It's much easier to have someone who you can communicate with and is flexible. At huge centers, they can't be flexible.

It's almost a split. You break even. You go work so you can pay for the child care. You're not in the red but there's not much profit, either.

The issue: Around 70 percent of mothers work in Georgia, which means someone has to watch the kids. Quality Care for Children, a group that operates referral agencies in the state, found that the average cost of child care per week in metro Atlanta runs around $140. High child-care costs and a lack of subsidized help -- only about 10 percent of families in the state receive aid -- make finding adequate care a tall order. A single mother with a child has to earn less than $1,700 a month to qualify for subsidized care. And even then, the state requires the mother to fork over between 10 and 15 percent of her weekly gross income for child care.

Telling fact: More than 17,000 kids are on a waiting list for child-care subsidies in Georgia.

Georgia jerk-around: The affordability and quality of child care isn't a top priority for legislators. "There's not a lobby for it that's very strong," says Rep. Kathy Ashe, D-Atlanta. "The Legislature is still made up of folks who don't have to worry about child care. Until we have more folks see it as an issue, it won't rise to the top."

Despite the uphill battle, Ashe will reintroduce a bill that would "grade" child-care centers. Currently, centers can receive national accreditation, which can be a long and costly ordeal, but there's no such state process. A state system could help parents know what type of quality of care a specific center offers for their children.

Compare it: North Carolina touts a state-certified child-care program like the one Ashe would like to propose. Several other states, including Mississippi and North Carolina, have extended their child-care subsidies to families making up to approximately $35,000. Georgia's income eligibility, on the other hand, cuts off at $24,416.

Add it up

Making Ends Not Meet

Average income before taxes for a 2.5-person household in metro Atlanta $59,942

Average housing cost in metro Atlanta $14,346

Average annual cost of group health insurance for a family living in the South $10,507

Average car-related expenses per household in metro Atlanta $7,400

Average annual child-care cost in metro Atlanta $7,280

Undergraduate tuition (excluding room, books and board) at top state universities in Georgia $3,368

Approximate annual undergraduate tuition at private universities $22,000

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research and Education Trust, Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, Quality Care for Children, University System of Georgia, The College Board

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