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Yep, Child Care Officially Costs More Than College — & Your Mortgage — in 30 States

A new survey from Child Care Aware of America reports some discouraging (although, are we really surprised though?) stats on the costs of child care across the country. Spoiler alert: they’re hella high. Notably, in 30 states and the District of Columbia, the annual price of center-based infant care is actually more than in-state tuition and fees at a public university. So if you don’t think you can afford college for your child, you’re probably already paying the equivalent. You know, just add that to your own hefty student loan you’re still paying off from years ago, and it’s no wonder millennial moms can’t catch a break.

The report, “The US and The High Price of Child Care: An Examination of a Broken System,” was released this week and revealed what many parents already know: that childcare is unaffordable in all 50 states. And millennials especially are feeling the crunch. The price of center-based infant care accounted for 18 to 42 percent of average income for millennials (defined by the study as those born between 1981 and 1996). Just what is that payment comparable to? Well, to depress you further, in 39 states and D.C., center-based care for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old in this study) is higher than the average annual mortgage payment. Bonkers. Across the country, parents will pay an average of $9,100 and $9,600 annually for care for a young child. So if you have two kids needing child care? Well, you do the math. (OK we’ll do it: That’s $18,700 per year.)

“I found the millennial map to be the most interesting part,” Kristina Haynie of Child Care America tells SheKnows. “Depending on the state, we found that center-based child care for an infant can comprise anywhere between 18% and 42% of average millennial household income. There’s a lot in the media about the financial pressures that millennials face, including student loan debt and the inability to afford a mortgage. High child care prices put an even bigger strain on a millennial family’s household budget. And because many millennials have college degrees, they may make too much money to qualify for any kind of child care subsidy assistance.”

The Catch-22 of trying to afford life in 2019 America indeed.

“In 30 states plus the District of Columbia,” Haynie adds, “the average price of center-based care for one infant exceeds the average in-state tuition and fees for a public university. This is concerning, as parents typically shoulder much more of costs associated with child care compared to the cost of college (where financial aid is more widely available).

“While family child care (home-based providers) is slightly less expensive than center-based child care, we still found that in 13 states plus the District of Columbia, the annual average price of family child care for one infant exceeded annual tuition and fees.”

The least-affordable states for millennials needing child care are Massachusetts (yearly infant care costs $20,880, which is 41.8 percent of the average millennial income); California (41.4 percent of income); Colorado (39 percent); Minnesota (38.3 percent); and District of Columbia ($24,081 yearly, which is 38.2 percent of an average millennial’s income).

And it’s only getting worse.

Looking over our data from the past 10 years, I believe that child care prices will continue to climb,” Haynie continues. “For example, average annual price for center-based infant child care in 2012 was $10,093. In 2015, it was $10,388. In 2017, it was $11,662. Our most recent report, with data from 2018, finds the average price of center-based infant care was $11,788. The bottom line is that child care is unaffordable and has been unaffordable for many years. It will remain unaffordable until we have investment to help parents afford to pay and ensure that providers are adequately compensated.”

Because it’s not as if child care providers are raking in the money here. According to the study, in every state, the annual price of center-based care for 2 children exceeds the average salary of the child care providers who work there.

To that end, Child Care Aware of America’s policy recommendations do not involve making child care cheaper. On the contrary, increasing the quality of child care (recommended) will increase the price. Reimbursement, tax credits, and operational support for child care providers will also help ease their financial burden, reads the report. But care must still be made affordable for parents.

“Quality, affordable child care should be, and can be made available and accessible to all children in the U.S. — regardless of age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or geographic location,” said Dr. Lynette M. Fraga, executive director of Child Care Aware of America. The organization’s policy recommendations are to increase data collection and analysis. More data means more info for policymakers, which means more possibility for improvement. Other recommendations include increasing state funding and tax credits for child care, and increasing awareness about assistance.

A version of this story was originally published on October 23, 2019.

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