Maddy Dychtwald

If I Ate My Kids, Could I Deduct It?

In Influence on April 15, 2010 at 10:15 am

It’s tax time again and once again, I’m irked by a question that’s bothered me since my kids were in diapers.  Why isn’t childcare a business expense?

After all, if I take a client out to lunch, I can deduct part of my tuna salad.  But that salad’s not nearly as crucial to my ability to do business as my daycare provider was when my kids were growing up.  Without childcare, I couldn’t have worked at all.  And while my daughter recently graduated from and my son is still in college, it’s still true that millions of mothers  in every income bracket would not be able to work without daycare.

But even though 70 percent of women with kids in first grade or younger work, childcare is not a business expense.  And lunch is (at least, partially).

To be more precise about it (since the IRS likes to be nit-picky) you can deduct a small amount of childcare.  But not because it’s a business expense; just because Congress realized that parents would go stark raving mad without some help. (And imagine what that would do to health care costs).

Do you know what the average American family with a baby and a preschooler spend on childcare? About $19,800.  Know how much you can deduct? $5000.  That’s three months of childcare.

Personally, I have to work all year.  I don’t get to knock off in April and stay home. How about you?

Why hasn’t the tax code caught up to the national reality?  Why don’t we as a country do everything we can to support the working moms who have emerged as heroines of the American family in this last recession, keeping families solvent while men lost jobs at higher rates than women?
The last time our country seriously thought about childcare as a national issue was 1973. The Federal Comprehensive Child Care Act sailed through both the House and Senate. But Nixon vetoed the bill saying it would “weaken the family.” I find it fascinating that despite the veto and despite the enormous cost of childcare, despite overt pressure from the President of the  United States to stay home…women went to work anyway.  And their wages have been the economic engine driving the phenomenal growth of America’s economy and our standard of living in the past 30 years.

It’s time to pick up where the conversation left off 37 year ago. That’s what the Obama administration did in  January 2010 by addressing childcare tax credits as described in this CNN article. And a local public radio station raised an even more fundamental question in this story: “How has the cost of child care affected your career decisions?”  It’s a question we should all be asking ourselves, perhaps even before we launch our careers. We need business schools and colleges to help young professionals–men and women–address these questions early on.

So, what’s more important to you? A cheaper business lunch? Or high quality childcare for America’s kids? It’s time we take another look at our national priorities. What do you think? I want to know.


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