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Childcare Costs Are Wrecking Families’ Budgets

Topics: Data & Research

It’s no secret that childcare can be expensive, but the stress it puts on family budgets can be difficult to handle. A recent NPR poll indicated that nearly a third of parents who pay for childcare say that the costs put a financial burden on their family. Seventy-one percent of those parents say the cost of childcare is a “very” or “somewhat” serious problem for their financial health.

childcare costs
Image Credit: Tax Credits/Flickr

With an average annual cost comparable to in-state college tuition, it’s clear that the price of quality care for our children can have a major impact on whether a family can stick to a budget, or spiral into debt.

Availability From State to State

The availability and cost of childcare varies significantly depending on where in the U.S. a family resides. Think tank New America released a new report showing that childcare was most available in the New England states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. On the other hand, childcare was hardest to come by in Hawaii, Utah, Idaho, and South Dakota.

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“Low availability” does not always equal low use. In fact, South Dakota, which had the lowest availability of care, also had the most working families of any state; all parents work in 82 percent of families with children.

“That suggests that working families are relying primarily on informal or ‘gray market’ care,” the report authors write.

Costs Compared to Rent

Mortgages and rent are often the biggest regular expense for families, but how does childcare compare? At a national level, full-time care for children costs 85 percent of the monthly median rent.

In the states of Kentucky, Montana, Oregon, and Wisconsin, childcare is actually more expensive than the median rent. In 11 others — including Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington — it exceeds 90 percent of the median cost of rent.

Childcare and Work

When children get sick, they can’t be cared for in their regular environment. This disproportionately affects mothers, who often bear the burden of taking sick days to care for family members. While who stays home is closely dependent on who has the most flexible work hours or is allowed to work from home by their employer, 16 percent of mothers say it is their role to stay home with the child.

Conversely, only 4 percent of fathers say it is primarily their role, in two-parent families. Over time, family life factoring into work decisions like this can influence a working mother’s career potential and earnings significantly more than a father’s. Comparing men and women with similar jobs, married women with children earn 4.2 percent less than married men with kids. Married women without children earn 1.6 percent less.

Tell Us What You Think

Has childcare been a cause of financial stress for you and your family? Does its expense exceed the price of rent or a mortgage in your budget? Share your experiences in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.

Kirsty Wareing
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