Graphic: Child Care Aware of America
Graphic: Child Care Aware of America

The national nonprofit Child Care Aware of America is tolling the bell on the high cost of child care. The organization has just released “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care 2015 Report.”

The need for child care is considerable. “In the United States, an estimated 11 million children under the age of five spend an average of 36 hours per week in child care.”

However: “For many, the high cost of child care is one of the initial shocks of becoming a parent,” the report says. And sadly, the high cost of many child care programs does not guarantee high quality.

Expenses vary by region.

“The cost of full-time center-based care for two children is the highest single household expense in the Northeast and Midwest. In the West and the South, the cost of child care for two children is surpassed only by the cost of housing in the average family budget.”

A parent who is the single mother of an infant and a school-aged child says in the report: “Almost half of my paycheck goes to daycare. I pay $208 a week for my son and $25 a week for [my] daughter to go before and after school. Obviously I have to work but some days it really doesn’t seem worth it. I love the daycare center they are in they do an amazing job. But it’s hard to live when daycare is almost $1,000 a month.”

Worse, in many states child care costs more than a year of college.

“In 2014, the average annual cost for an infant in center-based care was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college in 28 states and the District of Columbia. Even the annual average cost of care for a four-year-old in a center, which is less expensive than care for an infant, was higher than public college tuition and fees in 19 states and the District of Columbia.”

This past summer, Child Care Aware highlighted costs in each state in its annual release of fact sheets. This report explained, “Our 2014 Cost of Care report indicated that the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in center-based care ranges from $5,496 in Mississippi to $16,549 in Massachusetts.”

And the current report is accompanied by an interactive map that shows the cost in each state of child care as well as the percent of income spent on care and the comparison to college costs.

Graphic: Child Care Aware of America
Graphic: Child Care Aware of America

In addition: “Many communities face shortages of licensed quality child care; these areas are known as child care deserts. Low-income and rural communities and neighborhoods are especially likely to lack high-quality child care facilities.”

“When parents are priced out of legally operating child care they are often forced to select unlicensed care or patch together multiple informal arrangements; these options have been shown to be of lower quality overall than licensed settings, which has an impact on children’s development and learning.”


Who’s Paying Attention? Democrats and Republicans

“Child care, once consigned to the ghetto of liberal women’s issues, is earning newfound—and bipartisan—attention on the 2016 campaign trail,” Time Magazine reported last month. “During the Republican debate last week, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio dropped the remarkable fact that child care costs more than college tuition in 35 states. And today, the Center for American Progress, a popular source of policy ideas for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, rolled out a new campaign, Within Reach, designed to keep the issue at the top of the national conversation at least until Election Day.

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, told Time: “Wages have been stagnant, child care is one of costs that’s going up the fastest, and at the same time, we have all this data that’s coming out about how critical early childhood development is—how better off kids are and what a smart investment it is. You’re seeing a chorus of politicians recognize that.”

A Bloomberg article also covers the political response to child care costs, noting: “Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Senator Marco Rubio have settled on tax credits to help offset those expenses. Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders has put forward a plan to raise taxes on upper-income Americans to alleviate the strain on lower-income groups, and proposed access to public pre-kindergarten programs for all families — a move that Clinton also favors.”


Taking Action

Child Care Aware calls on Congress to take a number of steps to “to better meet the need of America’s working families,” including:

• increasing “federal investments in child care assistance”

• providing more resources to expand the capacity of child care programs

• reducing barriers in the administration of child care subsidies

• requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study of high-quality child care

• expanding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

• simplifying the process of qualifying for various child care tax incentives, and

• ensuring that “parents who are enrolled in and attend college full or part-time are permitted to take advantage of the Dependent Care Tax Credit”

Graphic: Child Care Aware of America
Graphic: Child Care Aware of America

“Child care is an important part of the fabric of the country and a major support for parents and children,” Joan Lombardi, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress says in the report. “We need a new financing strategy that will significantly increase resources and provide a third party payment system to take the burden off hard pressed families and to allow improved compensation for those who care for our children.”

And as the report concludes:

“Through careful planning by the states and Congress, our nation can ensure that quality, affordable child care settings are available for working parents in every community. The status quo is unaffordable. Poor quality child care is simply not working. It is time to do something about it. It is well past time to take significant action for our children and economic future.”