Cost of summer camp more than doubles, hit hard by inflation

The 2021-22 school year is quickly coming to an end, prompting parents to begin looking for summer day camps and other similar programs to keep their children occupied during the break. And as COVID-related restrictions appear to be loosening around the country, kids are more eager than ever to return to their favorite summer activities.

According to American Camp Association (ACA) President and CEO Tom Rosenberg, in light of soaring demand by parents to send their children to summer camp, inflation is taking its toll on camp programs.

“Well, the costs of providing camp, just like everything else right now, is really going up,” Rosenberg told Yahoo Finance Live. “We've had increases in labor costs, food costs, program supply costs, COVID-related costs. Everything has gone up. So camps are trying to operate at scale this summer, which is different from the past two summers.”

Rosenberg joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss inflationary costs impacting summer camps in the late pandemic, wages for camp employees, food prices, and COVID safety protocols for kids. The American Camp Association is a nonprofit association of over 2,400 accredited camps and more than 12,000 camp professionals who seek to preserve, promote, and improve the camp experience.


The portion of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that encompasses “tuition, other school fees, and childcare” has been steadily on the rise following a mid-pandemic plateau. The ACA also reported that the average cost of day camp has more than doubled to $178 per day in 2022, compared to just $76 last year. As for sleepaway camp, the average cost has nearly tripled to $449 per day.

Special needs children eat lunch as summer camp begins at Variety - the Children's Charity of the Delaware Valley in Worcester, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 21, 2021.  REUTERS/Hannah Beier
Special needs children eat lunch as summer camp begins at Variety - the Children's Charity of the Delaware Valley in Worcester, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 21, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah Beier (Hannah Beier / reuters)

Challenges facing summer camps

Summer camp programs struggled immensely throughout the pandemic — only around 20% of day and sleepaway camps were operational in summer 2020 — however, this improved to 67% in summer 2021. Nevertheless, many of the camps that were open were not operating at full capacity.

“I would say that right now, camps are really just trying to ameliorate the effects of their costs this year,” Rosenberg said. “Camps were really hurt. In summer 2020, many overnight camps did not operate. Many day camps did not operate. They went a whole year without revenue.”

Rosenberg hopes to see the number of fully operational camps keep trending upwards, but said that staff hiring continues to be difficult amid the labor market crunch felt across the U.S. He noted that camps are facing a shortage of qualified staff but are attempting to hire as many as possible in order to operate at scale.

On top of this, summer camps are also feeling the effects of persisting supply chain issues.

“Directors in overnight camps, for example, are really hoping that they can count on getting the food that they order on time so that the menu that they planned will actually happen,” Rosenberg said. “So last year, they were juggling a lot of things to make that happen with the supply logistics challenges that were occurring.”

Back in January, the Department of Education announced the distribution of all Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to state education agencies. A portion of the funds will go to making summer learning programs available to children disproportionately affected by the pandemic, according to Rosenberg.

In any case, Rosenberg said that demand for summer camp continues to outpace affordable supply. He emphasized the importance of building more camps as well as increasing the capacity of existing programs.

“We've got lots of new families who have never had their children attend camp, lots of families who have been sending their kids to camp for years,” he said. “Everyone wants to go to camp this summer. There's never been a more essential time for children and youth to have access to summer learning experiences like camp.”

Thomas Hum is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @thomashumTV

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