It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that child care is ridiculously expensive in the United States. Any parent who has tried to find child care at a price that still allows them to, let’s say, eat, knows that this is true. What might be surprising, however, is that according to a new report there is a state in the U.S. where child care is considered affordable, and that state is… Louisiana.
Child Care Aware published a report examining the cost and affordability of child care in every state. They found that the cost of child care “often exceed[s] the cost of housing, college, tuition, transportation, or food.” In every state except Louisiana, that cost represents more than 7 percent of family income, which, says Fortune, is the “U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ cutoff for affordability.” In 24 states — New York, Wisconsin and Hawaii, for example — child care represented well over 12 percent of a family’s income. In Colorado, families spent 16.3 percent of their income on child care — the highest percentage in the nation. The average cost of child care across the nation was over $17,000 a year, with folks in Washington, D.C. spending a whopping $22,000 a year.
And yet, in Louisiana, child care costs an average of $5,754, or 6.7 percent of a family’s average income.
So how has Louisiana done it? The answer lies in a tax credit package called School Readiness Tax Credits. It began 2007 after Louisiana routinely found itself at the bottom of the list of states with quality, licensed child care. Parents who earn less than $25,000 and enroll their children at a higher-quality child care center receive a refundable “child care expense credit.” Child care centers and their workers get credit for working in a higher-quality center and businesses can get credit for child care expenses and donations to programs that support high-quality centers. The tax credit has been highly successful, with the state earning back $1.78 for every dollar spent in early childhood education and 1.3 jobs being created in the state for every job created in child care.
Is Louisiana’s system perfect? Of course not. Is it better than what we have going on in the other 49 states? Probably. As long as the cost of child care remains a low priority in this country, families will continue to struggle. We need to decide that investing in child care is important. We need to put the education of our kids and the welfare of American families first.