In 33 States and D.C., Child Care Is More Expensive Than In-State College Tuition

Minimum-wage workers are especially hard hit by the cost.
(Photo: Bill O'Leary/Getty Images)
Oct 7, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Last spring, Shanesha Taylor, a mom in Phoenix, became the poster child for unaffordable child care after she left her two young children alone in a car during a job interview. Taylor was arrested and charged with two counts of child abuse—she was sentenced to 18 years’ probation in May. Although leaving kids in a car unattended is wrong, many moms and dads across the nation expressed empathy for Taylor’s actions. A mom who set up a crowdfunding campaign for Taylor said she did so because she knew all too well how the cost of a babysitter or a day care center could break the bank.

Indeed, according to a report released Tuesday from the Economic Policy Institute, child care costs now account for a significant portion of family budgets. In only a handful of the 618 cities analyzed by the EPI does the cost of child care meet the Department of Health and Human Services’ threshold of 10 percent of family income affordability.

But although many households across the United States are dealing with stagnating wages, minimum-wage workers are hardest hit by the affordable child care crisis. The report found that to pay for infant child care, a single parent living in Hawaii and earning the state’s minimum wage of $7.75 per hour would have to fork over every dime earned working 40 hours a week between January and September.

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Sure, plenty of things besides child care are pricey in Hawaii, but in 500 locations analyzed by the institute, the cost of child care exceeded that of rent. Hover over the states in the interactive graphic below and you’ll see what percent of a full-time minimum-wage-worker’s salary gets eaten by child care.

In Arizona, where Taylor lives, an $8.05-per-hour minimum-wage earner would shell out 55.9 percent of his or her earnings on child care. And in Washington, D.C., someone earning $8.25, the minimum wage in the nation’s capital, would pay a whopping 102.6 percent of his or her take-home pay to a nanny, day care, or babysitter.

Given that only 7 percent of employers offer free child care, folks earning more than the minimum wage—teachers, social workers, or nurses—are still feeling the pinch. Child care costs more than in-state college tuition in 33 states and Washington, D.C. Hover over the boxes in the graphic below and you’ll see what the percentage of tuition is for your state.

“The problem that poor families have long faced has become really challenging for middle-class families,” Joya Misra, a professor of sociology and public policy at the University of Massachusetts, told CBS News. “Mid- and even upper-class families are having trouble paying for child care. What’s going on there, and why is it so expensive and so unaccessible?”

The EPI recommended that “funding high-quality child care services should be a paramount concern for governments, business leaders, and families alike.” Given the high costs—and examples, such as Taylor’s, of what can happen when moms and dads have nowhere to turn—that’s a suggestion parents of all economic backgrounds can probably get behind.