Where the Cost of Child Care Outstrips College Tuition

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High-quality day care is out of reach for many families across the country, but the cost varies a lot from state to state, a study shows. Find out where your state ranks.

In more than half of the United States (33 states and Washington, D.C.), paying for child care is more expensive than college tuition.

That’s right. Depending on where you live, it’s cheaper to send a young adult to college than it is to send a 4-year-old to day care (or preschool).

The Economic Policy Institute recently released data about the cost of child care in the United States. The left-leaning think tank found that child care costs vary across regions and family types, accounting for the greatest variability in family budgets.

For example, if you have a 4-year-old, monthly child care costs range from $344 in South Carolina to $1,472 in Washington, D.C. The cost soars from there if you have more than one child in care. Says the EPI:

In the District of Columbia, monthly child care costs for a three-child household (with a 4-year-old, an 8-year-old, and a 12-year-old) are $2,784 — nearly 90 percent higher than for a household with one child (a 4-year-old). Costs are particularly high for families with infants … center-based infant care costs range from $468 a month in Mississippi to $1,868 a month in the District of Columbia.

The Department of Health and Human Services considers child care affordable if it eats up less than 10 percent or less of a family’s income. According to the EPI, just two states — South Dakota and Wyoming — provide “affordable” child care for infants. Overall, in 40 U.S. states, the average child care expense for a family of four exceeds the 10 percent threshold.

“High-quality child care is out of reach for many families,” said EPI research assistant Tanyell Cooke. “This crisis is not limited to low-income families, nor is it unique to certain parts of the country. It affects everyone, in every state.”

Interestingly, though child care costs can seem exorbitant, child care workers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the United States. In fact, many child care workers earn so little each paycheck that they live in poverty. Read more here: “Why Are the People Entrusted With Our Kids Paid So Little?

My home state of Montana is one of the 33 states where day care is more expensive than in-state college tuition.

I pay about $400 a month for my 2-year-old son to go to a small family-based day care for a few hours in the mornings, Monday through Friday. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to find what I consider to be affordable child care.

Looking for ways to save on day care? Check out “13 Ways to Clip the Cost of Child Care.”

How much do you pay for day care? What do you think of the cost of child care in the United States? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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