“Come on dude. That’s just dumber than crap. Seriously. Good God,” the conservative evangelical financial celebrity and New York Times bestselling author Dave Ramsey ranted at a parent who called into his radio program asking for advice.
Ramsey’s co-host Jade Warshaw piled on, “It’s time to take the kids off of filet mignon.”
The parent’s crime?
Paying $25,000 per kid for child care while his wife completes her medical residency to become a doctor.
“You bought ’em a college?” Ramsey mocked. “What you got ’em in? Some kind of dadgum, I mean are they going to Harvard? What the crap?”
Attempting to sound measured, Ramsey told the caller, “I’m going to be as nice as I can, Dave. You guys have lost your minds. … I don’t care how much money you make. There’s not enough money in the world that doesn’t make that stupid.”
“Find you a free summer camp. Anything during the summer time.”
Then Warshaw suggested: “Find you a free summer camp. Anything during the summer time.”
“So we’re going to borrow money now,” Ramsey scoffed. “We’re going to take out student loans for the 4-year-old.”
Parents all over social media have responded to Ramsey’s ridicule. And their consensus appears to be that Ramsey — who is worth a reported $200 million — and perhaps many people from older generations, are out of touch with the child care costs young parents face today.
This is not the first time the celebrity Christian financial guru has drawn ire for his brash demeanor. His approach to family finances is austere and unbending. And so is his personality. Employees have accused him of abusive and controlling behavior.
The real world today
It’s obvious Ramsey’s treatment of the caller revealed his privilege. But it is also fair to note the caller enjoyed a level of privilege as well. The caller mentioned having a $110,000-a-year job, while his wife was making $70,000 as a medical resident. While their financial stress due to child care costs is legitimate, many young parents today don’t make anywhere near that kind of money.
When our first child was born in 2010, my wife, Ruth Ellen, was making $31,000. We couldn’t imagine losing that income and relying solely on my income as a janitorial and floor cleaner. But when we looked into child care centers, the costs were $1,500 a month.
For her to continue working, we would have had to pay $18,000 for child care, which would mean she would be working full time all year for just $13,000 after child care costs. That was 14 years ago. And it was assuming we had just one child. We ended up having five. So Ruth Ellen quit her job, became a stay-at-home mom, and we lived below the poverty line on my cleaning income for a decade.
Child care costs could be even higher than we know
According to a study by the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor, the most recent data collection regarding child care prices was taken in 2018. Adjusting for inflation to 2022 dollars, the Department of Labor found average child care costs in 2018 were the equivalent of $5,357 to $17,171 per child, depending on the child’s age, the county of the provider, and the type of child care provided. This accounts for between 8% and 19.3% of the median family income.
If a family were to have two kids, it would have cost them more than $30,000 in 2018 to provide child care for their infant and toddler.
To make matters worse, these numbers are based on data collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Bank of America Institute, child care costs have risen by 32% since 2019. Additionally, the American Rescue Plan’s Child Care Stabilization program from 2021 expired Sept. 30, 2023, which Bank of America believes “could have a meaningful impact on consumers because over 12% of U.S. households pay for child care on a regular basis … and any further increase in prices would disproportionately weigh on families with young children.”
Despite the lack of comprehensive updated studies, these predictions are bearing themselves out. According to Care.com in February 2024, child care for one infant in New York City costs more than $34,000 annually.
Dave Ramsey doesn’t know what he’s talking about
Given the data, the $25,000 in child care costs Dave Ramsey’s caller mentioned doesn’t sound that shocking.
TikTok parenting influencer Paige Turner responded: “It never ceases to amaze me how out of touch some people are with the lived experiences of parents here in the United States.”
“He’s clearly uneducated in his field of work.”
“Dave is supposed to be an expert in his field. So you would think he would know that child care is the No. 1 rising cost for families here in our country. It is more expensive and going up at a faster rate than our mortgages, than groceries, than gas. It is the fastest rising cost for most families,” she explained. “So Dave going off as if that’s an astronomical number — like, ‘Oh my God, you’re the stupidest people in the world for paying that — is just uneducated. He’s clearly uneducated in his field of work.”
Turner also discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic affected child care: “The pandemic destroyed the child care industry for many, many people. Day cares were closing their doors left and right. There is more demand than ever and less supply. Teachers are leaving that field because the pay is so bad. … And people like Dave need to get their head out of the sand because this is the average cost of child care. This is not an insane number. This is not a wealthy person spending extravagantly. This is the cost of child care.”
And it’s more than social media influencers who are saying this. According to USA Today, Marla Brassard, who teaches psychology and education at Teachers College of Columbia University, says the parents who are criticizing Ramsey on social media are “right on the money.”
Robin Gurwitch, professor at Duke University, agrees, “There’s not an easy fix.”
And clinical psychologist Regina Galanti says videos put out by people like Ramsey who don’t understand the challenges of today’s parents can be “very triggering for many parents.”
It hurts women the most
It should be no surprise to learn that the people who get hurt the most by the rising costs of child care are women. According to the Women’s Bureau study, the higher the increase in child care costs, the lower the maternal employment rate falls. Additionally, even in counties where women made more money, the “higher child care prices remained a barrier to maternal employment in higher-wage areas.”
And for many conservative men, perhaps that’s the point. All the major conservative evangelical parachurch ministries believe a woman’s place is in the home, rather than in the workplace. Voddie Baucham goes so far as to argue adult daughters should stay at home to serve their dads for life until they get married to serve their husbands.
“There’s free nothing.”
Turner sees similar patterns in society at large. Referring back to the outburst by Ramsey and Warshaw, she reminded her viewers: “And the fact that they just alluded to free summer camp? There’s free nothing. There’s no free after school. There’s no free kindergarten, no free preschool. There is no such thing as free child care, unless what Dave’s alluding to is the unpaid labor of women which usually comes in the form of grandparents (and) aunts.”
The hierarchy of individualistic markets
Like many conservatives, Dave Ramsey has an extremely individualistic understanding of reality. When it comes to finances, conservatives argue an individual must work to pay their own bills, save their own money, pay for their own education, fund their own health care, and live within their means. Ramsey goes so far as to condemn any usage of credit besides buying a house. Even then, he encourages people to attempt to buy a house without a credit score, regardless of the hoops you’ll have to jump through and the higher rates you’ll most likely end up with.
No matter how smart conservative evangelicals think Ramsey sounds, he’s living in a fantasy land. Our lived reality is far more collective and communal than Ramsey and conservatives would like to admit. The global economy is a web of interrelated markets controlled by hierarchies of power that lead to the violent oppression of those on the underside through forced labor and diminished value.
In his book The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy, Raj Patel says, “The terms on which markets operate are set by the powerful; our tragedy is to have let this happen.” He goes on to argue: “The thinking that got us into this mess is unlikely to rescue us.”
Devaluing women by exiling them to a devalued work
When it comes to child care, the rising costs are leading women to leave the workforce and stay at home. Thus, women’s careers are being hurt while they’re becoming more dependent on men. And this strengthens patriarchal control of the home and society.
As has been true throughout American history, the work of child-rearing is devalued because we don’t recognize the value it brings to our hierarchical market.
“The work of child-rearing is devalued because we don’t recognize the value it brings to our hierarchical market.”
The solution to this problem is not primarily to complain about rising child care costs because in doing so, we risk devaluing the work of child care professionals, as if their work isn’t worth what they’re being paid. The solution also is not to tell women to lose their careers or to tell families to live below the poverty line for a decade, because neither of these options foster individual or communal wholeness.
Patel suggests we need to begin by valuing the process of child-rearing far more than we do. In a world of markets, children should be recognized as the workers of tomorrow, as the economy builders of the future. There is very real value to that because they are the future of our species.
Thus Patel suggests: “To reproduce workers requires more than making babies. It’s a long process of child-rearing, feeding, clothing, housing, educating, socializing and disciplining, and the costs of this are the source of perhaps the most fundamental misvaluation, worldwide — the market’s treatment of women’s work in the home.”
Imagine if caring for kids in the home wasn’t so gendered. What if more men became stay-at-home parents? And what if we valued the work of child-rearing in the home to such a degree that we shaped our markets with this value in mind?
If we deconstructed our individualism, recognized the violent oppression against women and children that markets of hierarchy cause, opened up to the reality of our interdependency and began to value child-rearing, there could be a number of options that together would help ease the burdens of parents.
Employers could include child care benefits packages. Some could even provide child care for their workers.
We could expand the child tax credits parents receive and go back to paying them monthly rather than annually after the fact.
Another possibility could be to include child care services like we provide public education with our taxes.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, child care costs in the United States are approximately 32% of a household’s income, while the average cost in the other countries belonging to the OECD is just 11%.
To quote Dave Ramsey, “That’s just dumber than crap.”
Unlike Ramsey, I don’t pretend to be an expert in economics. But surely we have the capacity to help one another flourish more than we’re doing. The question is whether we’re willing to deconstruct our individualistic markets of isolated hierarchy that oppress women, open up our imaginations for what we value, and make it possible for parents and children to thrive.
As Patel puts it: “The best kinds of political theater open up the world — educating, recruiting and entertaining in almost equal measure, making it possible for other people to act in new and daring ways.” Isn’t that what we want for our children?
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He completed a Master of Arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.