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Report Shows Child Care Too Expensive for Today’s Families

December 06, 2016

Arlington, VA, December 7, 2016  – Child Care Aware® of America’s (CCAoA) 10th annual report researching child care costs in counties and states across the U.S. shows families can’t afford child care in 49 of 50 states.

“Quality, affordable child care is one of the most important investments we can make for our children,” said Child Care Aware® of America Executive Director, Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D. “Investments made when children are very young will generate returns that accrue over a child’s entire life.”

The Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2016 report reveals the trend in lack of access to quality, affordable child care shows no signs of stopping. Families and single parents are struggling to afford quality child care and are looking for solutions. This year’s report summarizes the cost and affordability of child care throughout the U.S. and provides an overview of the child care landscape and the strategies that states and communities are using to help parents afford child care. This year, the report goes a step further and includes county-by-county analysis of child care costs in the states of Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced a new standard of affordability for child care fees—from 10 percent of family income or less to 7 percent of family income or less. By this new benchmark, Child Care Aware® of America’s latest report finds only one state, Louisiana, qualifies as affordable for a married family paying for infant child care. And in 39 states and the District of Columbia, the average cost of center-based care for an infant is higher than 10 percent of median income for a married couple with children.

The cost of full-time, center-based care for two children continues to be the number one single household cost in most parts of the U.S. In every state, the average cost of center-based infant child care is more than 24 percent of median income for single parents. The average cost for an infant in center-based care child care can be as high as $17,082 per year, or $12,796 annually for a four-year-old. This rivals what the average family pays for one year of college tuition at a four year institution, housing, transportation or food.

The cost of child care is especially difficult for families living at or below the federal poverty level. For these families, full-time center-based child care for an infant ranges from a low of 17 percent of family income to a high of 42.5 percent.

Families at or Below Poverty Level

State Percent of Family Income Used to Pay Child Care
Mississippi 17%
Massachusetts 42.5%


Even for families of three earning income at twice the federal poverty level threshold (i.e., $40,180), child care is a significant burden. Nationwide, families are losing nearly $30 billion per year in wages due to the high cost of child care. American businesses lose more than $4 billion per year due to gaps in child care and lack of access to it.

The report also shows child care workers are affected by the high costs of care. Child care teachers with strong professional preparation are essential to providing a high quality early learning program. The report says the quality of adult–child interactions is one of the most powerful predictors of children’s development and learning. More than 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before age five.

In every state, the report found child care teachers would need to spend more than half their income to afford child care for their own children. And in 14 states plus the District of Columbia, more than 100 percent of the median child care teacher’s income is needed to put two children in center-based care.

“Our 10th anniversary report is being released at a critical juncture for our nation. We continue to partner with policymakers and the new administration to make child care a national priority and to ensure quality, affordable, accessible child care is a reality for all working families,” Fraga said. “If we don’t invest in our nation’s child care system, future generations will continue to be affected.”

The report states the benefits of quality, affordable child care are significant to society as a whole as well as to children. Long-term benefits to society include higher test scores and high school graduation rates, a greater likelihood of gainful employment, and less likelihood of incarceration or using illegal drug use.


With the release of the Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2016 report, Child Care Aware® of America recommends the following to improve America’s child care system:

  • Invest in child care by increasing funding around the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which could be used to expand the supply of child care and promote the quality of care;
  • Limit the cost burden for families by raising dependent care limits for deductions or providing additional tax credits for families and providers, creating public-private partnerships to invest in child care in local communities and looking to states which already have developed successful financial models as case examples for other states and communities;
  • Streamline eligibility standards and procedures for parents and prioritize professional development for the child care workforce; and
  • Join the movement at org, and let your voice be heard.

State by State Resource Map

Topics: Policy & Advocacy, News

Rae Pickett

Written by Rae Pickett

RaeAnn is the Sr. Manager of Public Relations at CCAoA. Her work has solidified relationships with outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Univision, NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine, TIME, CNN Espanol, Buzzfeed News, POLITICO The Miami Herald, The San Antonio Express-News, ImpreMedia and many state and local ventures.