Day Care Now Costs More Than College Tuition in Most States

Friday, 11 Apr 2014 12:52 PM

By Aaron Stern

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Parents save for years to pay for their children's college tuition, but a report released last fall that made headlines this week shows that parents in 31 states face a more costly expense far sooner: day care.

That report from Child Care Aware America, a child care resource and referral organization, showed that the annual cost of day care for an infant is greater than that of in-state college tuition and fees in more than half of the United States.

The state with the biggest gap, according to The Washington Post, is New York, where in-state tuition is $6,500 — roughly $8,000 less than the cost of child care. As shown in an interactive map from The Washington Post,  the other states where child care costs far exceed higher education expenses are Alaska, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and Wyoming. South Carolina represents the other end of the spectrum, where college costs are about $4,000 more than child care.

State-to-state disparities in child care and higher education expenses vary based on costs of living, state regulations and state spending on higher education, according to Mother Jones.

Average weekly child care expenses for families with working mothers jumped more than 70 percent from 1985 ($87) to 2011 ($148), in inflation-adjusted-dollars, according to a report from the Pew Research Center released this week.

That figure represents an increase of 6.3 percent to 7.2 percent of average family income, and is believed to be a major reason that nearly 30 percent of American mothers are setting aside careers to stay at home and take care of their children, according to the Pew Research Center's analysis of its study.

The change comes after decades of decline in the rate of stay-at-home mothers bottomed out at 23 percent at the turn of this century.

The increased cost of child care impacts low-income families more dramatically, according to the Pew report:

In 2011, for instance, families with employed mothers whose monthly income was $4,500 or more paid an average of $163 a week for child care, representing 6.7 percent of their family income. Families with monthly incomes of less than $1,500 paid much less — $97 a week on average — but that represented 39.6 percent of their family income.

The Christian Science Monitor noted that only 5 percent of mothers staying at home to care for their children have a master's degree and an annual family income of $75,000 or more.

Roughly two-thirds of stay-at-home mothers had husbands in the workforce in 2012, while the rest were single, cohabiting or married with a husband out of the workforce, according to CBS DC. That figure is down nearly 20 percent from 1970, when 85 percent of stay-at-home moms had working husbands.

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