When Kristina Boling-Smith and her husband Eric plan their monthly nights out together, they don’t just plan for the cost of dinner or the price of a friend’s birthday present.
They know they will also spend $140 to $200 on a babysitter.
For Boling-Smith, it’s money well spent, especially when it means the sitter wants to continue watching his 5-year-old son Langston, who is autistic.
“Oh, it’s priceless,” she said. “After that time off to hang out with friends and just know that our child is being looked after, it’s definitely worth scheduling a babysitter once a month.”
When the couple started using babysitters three years ago, they paid $18 an hour. Now they pay $35 an hour plus tip.
Since then, her financial situation has changed: Boling-Smith, 39, returned to her job as a social worker while her husband continues to work as a literary agent and author.
But Langston’s needs have also increased with age, she said, as have typical babysitting rates in her Fishtown neighborhood, where she’s heard parents of neurotypical children typically pay $15 to $20 an hour.
The calendar of Kristina Boling-Smith, 39, and Eric Smith, 40, of Fishtown, who have marked days when they need a babysitter for their son Langston, 5… … Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer
An increase of almost 10%
Across the country, other parents have also started paying more in recent years.
According to an analysis by UrbanSitter, an online platform for finding caregivers, babysitting prices rose nearly 10% in 2022, beating inflation for the second year in a row. Rates increased by 21% over two years. The statewide average hourly rate last year was $22.68 for one child and $25.37 for two children, according to booking data and family surveys of more than 15,000 US households (blog.urbansitter.com/babysitting-rates).
In Philadelphia, the one-child rate increased 17% from 2021 to 2022, while the two-child rate remained constant.
However, out of the 22 largest metropolitan areas in the country, Philly was the fourth cheapest city to hire a babysitter last year, UrbanSitter found, with an average hourly rate of $18.03 for one child and $20.78 for two children.
These rates are below the national average, even though the city’s cost of living is higher than average. This disparity intrigued Lynn Perkins, co-founder and CEO of UrbanSitter.
She said she believes several factors play a role, including Pennsylvania’s $7.25 minimum wage, which is much lower than the $15 in states like New York and California, which are home to other major cities . (Gov. Josh Shapiro has urged lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to $15.)
Philadelphia’s density of colleges and universities may play a role, she said, since undergraduate students often charge less than older, more experienced babysitters. The same is true of the city’s robust public transit system compared to other cities, which results in fewer sitters claiming gas reimbursements.
Houston only; San Antonio, Texas; and Raleigh, NC had lower average hourly rates than Philadelphia. Rates were highest in San Francisco, where people paid an average of more than $25 an hour for a babysitter to look after a child.
A local sitter who asked not to be named to speak openly about clients’ finances charges a minimum of $20 an hour and has made up to $5,000 a month from babysitting and nanny work alone.
The Greater Childcare Crisis
The rising cost of babysitting is a by-product of a broader childcare crisis that is struggling for both parents and providers.
Some of the childcare workers who left the profession at the height of the pandemic have not returned to those jobs, which sometimes pay less than $13 an hour, and remain in the babysitting market. Not only has that left some care centers understaffed, but it’s also pushed up the average hourly rate for babysitters based on their skills, Perkins said.
At the same time, demand for babysitters is showing no signs of slowing down as opposed to more full-time care options, she said, as many employees have returned to face-to-face work on a hybrid schedule, where they are in the office a few days a week at most.
“Parents try to cobble together a babysitter here, a babysitter there. Parents post if they can share a nanny,” said Debra Isaacs Schafer, a work-life consultant in the region specializing in working parents with neurodiverse children. “I’ve been doing this job for over 20 years. I’ve never seen it like that.”
Langston Smith, 5, and his father Eric Smith, 40, of Fishtown, Pennsylvania, hang out in their living room in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. … Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer
Babysitting used to be seen as an easy way for college students, high schoolers, and even teenagers to earn extra money after school and on the weekends. Some parents still employ young babysitters with little experience and few references, apart from perhaps the occasional recommendation from a friend or colleague. But others want someone more qualified, perhaps with certain certifications or degrees.
“What we’ve found is that families are now more likely to be looking for older childcare providers,” Perkins said, compared to 12 years ago when UrbanSitter was founded. “It’s a lot harder to find high school babysitters. Kids these days are busier with activities and volunteering.”
what to ask
The process of finding a babysitter can include interviews and background checks. And it’s not just babysitters vying for the job: parents want to impress, too, hoping to find a significant other they can rely on for dates, social gatherings, and work events.
For parents of children with medical conditions or intellectual disabilities, the stakes are even higher, and the pay reflects this. Sites like UrbanSitter recommend that parents of special needs children pay more than the usual rate due to the increased demands and expectations of the sitter. Babysitters who look after multiple children or who are expected to do housework, help with homework, walk the dog, or drive children to activities should also be paid more, UrbanSitter recommends.
“Parents kind of know they need to calibrate based on the task they have to do,” Perkins said. For example, if the babysitter works nights and the child sleeps most of the time, a lower rate would be acceptable.
How much do babysitters pay in the Philadelphia area?
The children’s experience, expectations and needs should all be considered when deciding whether to pay a babysitter more than the standard hourly rate. We break it down in this guide to paying babysitters.
David Levi, 43, of West Chester, said he pays a babysitter $25 an hour for multiple days every two weeks when he has custody of his 1-year-old daughter. He had first thought that $15 would be acceptable. But he said he changed his mind after learning more about popular prices and how difficult it was to find someone reliable. Caring for a young child also entails different responsibilities than older, more independent children, and he often visits the babysitter, even if he has to work unexpectedly late.
In the media, Herald Stephens, 37, and his wife recently interviewed three babysitters, all of whom said they charged $16 to $20 an hour to babysit their 4-year-old twins. The couple plans to split the difference and pay $17.50. But before they embark on a regular date night routine, they want their new sitter to accompany them to a pediatrician’s appointment for their son, who is diabetic.
Stephens reckons they’ll eventually use a fortnightly babysitter for date nights, a luxury that will be well worth a few hours away from the kids.
“They make you so happy,” Stephens said, “but you really need that beak.”