Daycare Now Costs More Than College in Many States & That Needs to Change

piggy bankThe eventual prospect of putting their kid through college is something that's been keeping parents up at night for decades, but now those tuition-related nightmares are starting much, much earlier: In 23 out of 50 states, daycare can actually be more expensive than college. How is that even possible?!

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New research from the Economic Policy Institute compared the annual cost of full-time daycare for a 4-year-old with the average tuition for a student going to an in-state, four-year institution. And while numbers vary widely from state to state, in many states daycare is indeed more expensive than college; even in states where it's not, the cost of childcare is still remarkably (oftentimes prohibitively) high. For example, in my state (Connecticut), the average price tag for annual infant care costs is $13,880, whereas in-state tuition for four-year public college is $10,128. In Louisiana, by comparison, the cost of annual infant care is substantially lower than in my neck of the woods ($5,747), and it's not higher than the cost of college ($6,585), but the two numbers are still pretty close.

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It's incredibly disturbing, but perhaps what's most disturbing of all is that only 10 states have average childcare costs that meet the US government's definition of "affordable" childcare, which is that it costs less than 10 percent of a family's income based on calculations with the median income for a family of four. So what are parents in all the other states supposed to do?

Many are forced to settle for less than quality childcare, which is an unsettling (and sometimes dangerous) reality. A 2007 study by the National Institute for Child Health Development found that the vast majority of organized childcare arrangements in the America were "fair" or "poor"; only 10 percent (!) of providers met the institute’s standards for "high quality." It's beyond alarming that such a large number of families are stuck making this agonizing compromise.

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That's why many people (including policymakers) believe that the US should offer childcare subsidies, like Europe does -- a practice which would theoretically boost productivity, and therefore the economy. It makes perfect sense, of course -- parents who can afford to provide their children with safe, high-quality care can afford to put time and effort into their career.

Unfortunately, we're still pretty far away from that being the reality, and in the meantime, our kids are suffering for it.

 

Image via Ken Teegardin/Flickr

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