In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about Maddy, a young single mother in Portland, Maine, who used her boyfriend’s sister as a babysitter. She paid this babysitter fifty dollars a week, instead of paying ninety dollars for a “real day care center.”  Affordable child care is a problem, especially for single-parent families living on a meager salary.
Parents bracketed in the lower class (even those in two-parent households) must have jobs to pay the bills. This means that their children must attend some sort of child care while their parents are away. Most national organizations suggest that children not be left home alone until they are at least twelve. Yet there is a catch-twenty-two here: to make enough money to pay for childcare, parents need jobs. To get a job, your children need childcare services. What comes first? Ehrenreich found herself in a similar (yet slightly less dire) situation when she described her need for both work and a place to live: “I need a job and an apartment, but to get a job I need an address and a phone number and to get an apartment it help to have evidence of stable employment.” 
If parents are lucky enough to find childcare, how much will it cost them? The Head Start program is an option for those who meet the federal poverty level eligibility requirements. As of 2008, a family of four must earn less than $21,000 per year to qualify.  However, for those not under the federal poverty level, the average day care cost in the United States is $8,150 per year for infants and toddlers.  The price is slightly lower for pre-schoolers. By visiting the Child Care Aware site, I used their nifty budgeting option to find out that if I lived in Massachusetts, had one child, and worked in a job that paid $30,000 a year, I would be deep in the red by now.
What happens to single mothers (or fathers, or even two-parent families) who are forced to get a job, but are unable to pay for childcare during the eight (or more) hours they are gone? It is illegal and dangerous to leave children alone for extended periods of time. Shifting children from place to place (grandmother, friend, babysitter, etc) results in under-developed emotional capabilities in children; if they cannot be at home with at least one parent, it is best for their development to attend an accredited childcare facility. Yet these places are rarely affordable to people living near the poverty line (and even many in the middle class), and both children and parents suffer for it. As Ehrenreich’s experience documented, a single person has a hard time “getting by” in America. But what happens when you have children counting on you, too?
 Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed, (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2001), 80.
 Ehrenreich, 54.
 Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, “Head Start Family Income Guidelines, 2008,” <http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/Program%20Design%20and%20Management/Head%20Start%20Requirements/IMs/2008/resour_ime_005a1_020508.html>.
 National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, “2008 Price of Childcare,” <http://www.naccrra.org/randd/docs/2008_Price_of_Child_Care.pdf >.