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News from EPI High Quality Child Care is Out of Reach for Many Families: Child care costs exceed rent in four-out-of-five rural and metro areas across the country

Child care is critical for working families, as having both parents in the labor force has increasingly become an economic necessity. However, high quality, dependable child care is a large expense—one that is unaffordable for many families. In High Quality Child Care Is Out of Reach for Working Families, senior economist Elise Gould and research assistant Tanyell Cooke break down the high cost of child care throughout the country and the difficulties families have in meeting these costs.

Gould and Cooke outline how child care fits into EPI’s family budgets, which measure the income families need in order to attain a modest yet adequate standard of living in 618 communities, showing that for families with two children (a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old), child care costs exceed rent in 500 out of 618 family budget areas. These costs are also highly variable, ranging from about half as much as rent in San Francisco to nearly three times rent in Binghamton, New York.

“The fact that child care is such a large part of families’ budgets underscores the need for a government solution,” said Gould. “It will take bold policy action to make high quality, dependable child care accessible to every family that needs it.”

While EPI’s family budgets estimate costs for families with 4-year-old and 8-year-old children, in their latest analysis, Gould and Cooke also look at the high cost of infant care and construct new budgets for families with infants in 10 locations. In these areas, child care costs for families with an infant and a 4-year-old are between approximately 20 and 31 percent of median family income.

“The high and rising cost of college tuition is well known,” said Cooke. “But surprisingly, child care is an equally if not more onerous expense. In more than half the states, child care is a bigger expense than even in-state tuition at a 4-year public college.”

Child care costs for a 4-year-old exceed the average cost of in-state tuition at public 4-year institutions in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Infant care costs, meanwhile, exceed the average in-state tuition for public colleges in in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

It is particularly difficult for minimum wage workers to afford high-quality child care. To meet the demands of infant care costs for a year, a minimum-wage worker in the state with the median state minimum wage (Hawaii, at $7.75) would have to devote his or her entire earnings from working full time from January until September. In fact, child care costs exceed 30 percent of a minimum wage worker’s earnings in every state.