NYTimes: The Families That Can’t Afford Summer

| June 13, 2016

The depressing reality of a season we mistakenly refer to as “vacation.”

WHAT are your kids up to this summer? Sounds like a casual question. But for working parents at this time of year, it’s loaded. What have you managed to pull together that will keep your kids engaged, healthy, happy and safe, while still allowing you to keep feeding and clothing them? For most parents, summer, that beloved institution, is a financial and logistical nightmare.

Tolanda Barnette is hoping for “a miracle” for her 6-year-old son: The 41-year-old day care worker can’t afford to enroll him at the center where she works, and she’s just saved enough to move her family out of the shelter where they’ve been living for the past year into an apartment in Durham, N.C. There’s no money for even the least expensive camp.

Her only option is to leave the boy at home with his 12-year-old sister. “My daughter’s not going to be happy,” Ms. Barnette said. “She doesn’t want to spend her summer babysitting.” Her daughter is also scheduled to stay with her father for part of the summer, an opportunity Ms. Barnette’s 6-year-old doesn’t have. “I’m really digging for something for him,” she said. But if she fails? “I don’t know. I just don’t know. I have to work. It’s not an option.”

Most American schools take a 10- to 11-week break during the summer. The assumption that underlies summer vacation — that there is one parent waiting at home for the kids — is true for just over a quarter of American families. For the rest of us, the children are off, the parents are not. We can indulge our annual illusion of children filling joyful hours with sprinkler romps and robotics camp or we can admit the reality: Summer’s supposed freedom is expensive.

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