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Report: Average U.S. family pays more than 30% of income on child care—and that hurts us all

It’s no secret that child care costs are a burden for many American families. But, according an annual report by The Center for American Progress, the weight of that burden varies dramatically from state to state.

The “Early Learning in the United States” report examined the cost and quality of child care for each of the 50 states and Washington D.C.—and found in almost half the states, families of four are paying 30 percent or more of their state’s median family income on child care.

That means for every dollar from those family’s paychecks, $0.30 cents went straight to child care.

For a family with an infant and 4-year-old child, Louisiana had the lowest annual child care cost at $10,674. That made it just one of two states with a cost that was less than 30 percent of the state's median income for families with children.

Seven of the 10 most affordable states (Louisiana, South Dakota, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, North Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Jersey and Utah) are in the south. Meanwhile, the 10 most expensive areas (Washington, Illinois, Minnesota, Rhode Island, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, New York and D.C.) included more coastal states with just a few exceptions.

New York is the most expensive state for families, with the annual cost of child care reaching $25,844—or 38 percent of the median income—but the District of Columbia is even worse: There, child care took 51 percent of the median income for families with children at an annual cost of $40,521.

In other words, with the exorbinant child care costs in Washington D.C., the average family had less than half of their paycheck to cover the rest of their living expenses.

Unfortunately, the high cost of child care doesn’t guarantee kids are getting quality care. According to a February report from The Center for American Progress, only 10 percent of child care programs are considered high-quality, and mechanisms to measure and increase the quality of child care programs are underutilized. Even in publicly funded preschools, the quality of care differs from program to program.

The researchers behind the report argued this doesn’t just hurt individual families, but all of society: When there is affordable, educational care, both young minds and the economy are demonstrably stimulated.

With more than 15 million children living in households in which both parents work, access to affordable child care is important for families across America. Recognizing that, The Center for American Progress encouraged communities and lawmakers to improve the child care system in these ways...

Child care recommendations

-Cap child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income

-Offer voluntary universal preschool to three and four year olds

-Begin a new, nationally representative study that examines the quality of child care options

Now, the ball is in the court of local advocates and policymakers. And we just hope they recognize that affordable access to quality child care isn’t just in the best interests of families, but of everyone.

Heather Marcoux is the News Editor for Motherly and mom to one little boy. A former television journalist, Heather lives in Canada with her husband, son and a foursome of adorable pets.

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