We constantly hear in the news about college tuition growing steeper and steeper. But the daunting cost of infant and child care is rarely discussed. A new study by the nonprofit advocacy group Child Care Aware of America shows that families in most states are really struggling with the cost of child care, finally bringing awareness to this taboo topic.
It's no secret that child care costs a lot, but this study, "Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report," shares some pretty shocking statistics that really put things in perspective. Here are a few (disheartening) highlights:
- In 31 states plus D.C., the cost of center-based care for an infant is higher than a year's tuition at a four-year public university.
- The average annual cost for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) in a childcare center ranged from about $10,000 in Mississippi to nearly $30,000 in Massachusetts (my state -- ouch).
- While Massachusetts has the highest dollar cost for infant daycare (about $16,500 a year), the state with the worst daycare cost-to-income ratio is Oregon (where families pay almost 20 percent of their household income for center-based care for one infant). Sorry, Oregonians. We feel your pain.
- In most regions of the U.S., child care for two children costs more than housing. Hmmm... A roof over your head or a place to safely leave your child while you go to your job so that you can have a roof over your head? That's a tough one... I wish I were joking.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers 10 percent of household income for child care as a benchmark of affordable care; 38 of our 50 states don't meet this benchmark.
- In 2012, the average family income in U.S. households (after taxes and deductions) rose by about 0.6 percent. Meanwhile, the cost of living rose by 1.6 percent. The average cost of infant care in a center rose by 2.7 percent. The average care of infant care in a home-based daycare rose 3.7 percent. As NPR put it, the cost of child care grew up to eight times faster than family income. Feeling the squeeze? I'm sure you are.
Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., the executive director of Child Care Aware of America, notes that 11 million children under age 5 are in some form of child care -- so this is affecting a lot of American families. Given that child care professionals are among the lowest paid workers in the U.S., the report calls for a stronger government investment in child care aid and resources rather than a change in the cost of care. It also highlights the importance of child care in providing early education for future generations. Oftentimes, a child who starts behind her peers in school stays behind for the rest of her schooling.
As sad as the news of this report is, I'm glad it's out there with some solid numbers to back it. When it comes to expanding my own family, we've had to pump the breaks after crunching the numbers (after all, the U.S.D.A. says kids cost almost $250,000 to raise from birth through high school). It's affecting almost everyone I know (and most of our FE Pregnancy readers say that child care is their top financial worry -- though it's almost a toss-up with other scary expenses). Maybe now we can talk about this more openly and concretely -- heartbreaking as it may be.