Families paid more for childcare in 2012 than in 2011, with the costs of center care rising by 2.7 percent for an infant and 2.6 percent for a four-year-old, according to a new report from Child Care Aware of America. They rose even faster for care in a family’s home, which went up 3.7 percent for an infant and 4.8 percent for a four-year-old. While the average annual cost of full-time center care ranges state by state, it is now as much as $16,430 in Massachusetts for an infant and $12,355 in New York for a four-year-old. For both children, it can be as much as $28,606.
This cost eats up a huge amount of families’ budgets. Putting two children in full-time center care represents the biggest single expense for a household in the Northeast, Midwest, and South, and it is only exceeded by the cost of housing in the West. It is more than annual median rent in every state and more than mortgage payments in 19 states and DC. The cost of putting an infant in a childcare center is more than what the average family spends on food in every region in the country. It can even be higher than college tuition: The costs are higher than a year of public college a four-year institution in 31 states and DC for an infant and 19 states and DC for a four-year-old.
It’s also high for a family budget in percentage terms. The Department of Health and Human Services considers spending 10 percent of a family’s income on childcare to be the benchmark of what is affordable. Yet for single parents, the average cost of center-based infant care is more than 25 percent of the median income in every state. For a married couple, the cost for an infant is more than 10 percent of median income in 38 states an DC and the cost for a four-year-old exceeds that limit in 21 states and DC. The cost of putting an infant in full-time center care will eat up anywhere from 7 percent to 19 percent of a married couple’s income.
The costs hit a wide swath of Americans. Nearly 11 million children under the age of five spend time in child care each week. That’s thanks to the fact that nearly half of today’s families have two working parents and a quarter are headed by single parents, necessitating that children have somewhere to go when their parents have to go to work.
But the country is actually withdrawing its support for helping families afford the high costs of quality care. While low-income Americans can get subsidies to help cover the cost, those living in half the states got less support this year compared to last, a trend that has been ongoing since 2011. But those figures were taken before sequestration kicked in, which took $69 million from the program that funds the assistance this year and will take a bigger bite next year. Sequestration has also kicked thousands of low-income preschoolers out of their Head Start programs, which has forced some parents to quit their jobs.
Preschool enrollment is already low in this country, ranking it at 24th for three-year-olds and 26th for four-year-olds among developed peers. The country also ranks at number 21 for the percentage of GDP spent on preschool education. But President Obama has proposed investing $75 billion to expand preschool access to all children and to make childcare more affordable.