Child-care costs forced this single mom to give up her job — her car was repossessed and now she has $5,000 in credit-card debt

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In her 10 years as a mother, Kimberly Maple has seen her paychecks shrink from about $15 an hour to $9 an hour.

There’s a reason for that — day-care costs.

Caring for her three children has turned Maple’s resume into a bouncing ball. The 36-year-old has worked in sales and bill collection. The associate’s degree holder has been in customer support, teaching and nursing too.

But the self-professed “jack of all trades” from Monck’s Corner, S.C., is done with the chase for the next gig. “I just want a job that has benefits, and I never have to be in this position again.”

Back in the mid-2000s, Maple had a job she loved working for Comcast CMCSA, +0.14%. It started as customer support and turned into a sales position. Maple earned about $15 an hour, had benefits and bonuses on her sales. The 20-minute commute was easy and she enjoyed talking to customers. “I loved my job,” she said.

Then she had her daughter in 2009.

Courtesy Kimberly Maple

Kimberly Maple

Maple, a single mom, was back on the job after two months of paid maternity leave. Maple’s mother, a corrections officer, worked a night shift and took care of Maple’s newborn during the day. The arrangement lasted a year until Maple’s mother couldn’t swap shifts with co-workers on a regular basis.

Maple told her mother, Loraine, she’d figure out another arrangement for her one-year-old. So Maple checked out child-care prices. The cheapest rates were $135 a week. Maple ultimately decided to quit her job and work from home.

It wasn’t an easy choice, she said. “I was very scared [because] I didn’t have health insurance,” she remembers.

Maple is far from the only parent who’s had to make a choice between work and child care. In 2016, almost 2 million parents of children ages 5 and younger had to quit their job, refuse an employment offer or switch their job because they had a child care issue, according to the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

Last year, annual day care costs for an infant and a 4-year-old were cheapest in the South ($17,193) and most expensive in the Northeast ($24,815), according to Child Care Aware of America. Prices might be cheaper around Maple, but $17,000 still isn’t cheap.

South Carolina families could use better access to day care, according to information from ZERO TO THREE, an organization focusing on early childhood. Families there are less likely to take advantage of available resources: 3.1% of South Carolina toddlers from low- and moderate-income families are in federally subsidized child care programs, the organization said; the national average is 4.2%. Some parts of Berkeley County, where Maple lives, have no licensed child care providers and are considered “child care deserts,” a 2018 study by the Center for American Progress found.

Families shouldn’t spend more than 7% of their income on child care, according to a 2016 recommendation by the Department of Health and Human Services, but there’s no state in the country where parents can follow that recommendation, according to Child Care Aware of America. The advocacy group suggests that parents look for child care vouchers, scholarships and state-funded pre-K programs to help save money.

Maple began working from home, making $9 an hour. Through her third-party employer, Maple collected payments from Sprint S, -0.65%  customers. She had a hard time making ends meet. Her car was repossessed and her credit score dropped. “I lost a lot of stuff, but I made sure I paid the rent and my lights.”

She held the job for two years, before moving on to become a triage nurse at an urgent care clinic.

Maple worked there for more than five years, and felt like she was regaining her footing. It didn’t last long.

While she was on leave with her newborn son in 2015, the practice suddenly shut down. “It was like déjà vu, back to square one,” she said — except now she had two kids, not one.

‘It was still a tight spot, but it would be cheaper to stay home.’

“It was still a tight spot, but it would be cheaper to stay home,” Maple said.

So that’s what she did, running up $6,000 in credit card debt along the way.

By 2017, after some efforts at event planning, Maple heard child care jobs could give discounts on child care.

Maple wanted her boy to be around other kids, so she landed a job as a teacher in a day care center. She earned $10.50 an hour, without benefits, and paid a discounted $400 monthly day care bill. Though her job gave a $50 monthly allowance, Maple chipped in her own money for supplies.

“That’s never enough, especially with what we do with the kids,” she said.

While she worked full-time, raising two children and expecting a third, Kimberly earned her associate degree in human services, She received her diploma in May from Trident Technical College in Charleston, S.C.

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Despite the tight budget, Maple was able to pay off her debts, at least temporarily. She brought lunch from home, carpooled to save money on gas, and used her tax refund checks to pay down debts.

Maple left the day care job in July and gave birth to her daughter in August. She’s ready for another career, this time something steady and with benefits. “I don’t want to fall back into the same cycle,” she said.

Maple’s also been studying the stock market. She hopes to invest one day so she can build income outside of work. She’s taken on about $5,000 more in credit-card debt — for household necessities, she added.

But Maple’s confident she’ll pay it off once she gets back to work. Maple considers herself an “optimist” who’s become stronger over the years. “I look at the positive in everything,” she said.

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