Jun 15, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Average cost of child care hit $10,600 in 2021

Average annual cost of center-based care for a toddler, by state
Data: Annie E. Casey Foundation; Map: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

New data shows how deeply families have struggled to stay afloat while working and paying for child care, and how in many cases they've been forced to quit jobs to stay home with a kid — especially if they are Latino, Black or live in poverty.

By the numbers: About 17% of Black children and 16% of Latino kids ages 5 and under lived with a family member who had to quit, change or refuse a job because of child care issues in 2021, according to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released Wednesday.

  • The same was true for 10% of white non-Hispanic children.
  • The average annual national cost of child care for one kid in 2021 was $10,600, or one-tenth of a married couple's median income and more than one-third of a single parent's income, according to the report.
  • Child care costs have increased by 220% since 1990, outpacing inflation, per the report.
  • Infant care is even more burdensome — it costs more than in-state tuition at a public university in 34 states and in Washington, D.C.

What they're saying: Felicia Cabrales, of Phoenix, recently left her full-time job at an insurance company to care for her 15-month-old son.

  • Cabrales, 34, had relied on her mom to take care of the baby when she went back to work 10 months ago, but was forced to look for day cares after her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The day cares she considered would have cost half her income.
  • "I just thought if I'm going to spend half my income on child care, then what's the point? At that point I'm just working to pay for child care," Cabrales says.
  • Cabrales adds she and her husband are much less stressed now that they don't struggle to find care. "It's really lightened the burden for both of us," she tells Axios Latino.

The big picture: The inaccessibility of child care disproportionately affects women, single parents, families of color, immigrant families and those who live in poverty, experts say.

  • "The childcare costs can be so burdensome that they struggle to pay their rent, to buy food, to buy diapers and clothing for their children," says Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Julia Mendez, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and researcher at the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families, says Latinos are particularly impacted because they often work in low-wage and inflexible jobs with irregular hours, which is not conducive to traditional day care center models.

  • Latinos also tend to live in areas with fewer child care centers.
  • Families — especially those with children younger than 5, for which services are more expensive — often decide to leave their jobs because child care is too burdensome, Mendez tells Axios.
  • "But we also do know that many Latino families are paying a lot out of pocket to purchase child care, which I think does show that commitment to staying in the workforce," Mendez adds.

What's happening: More people and policymakers have started to pay better attention to child care issues since the pandemic began, says Kim Kruckel, executive director for the Child Care Law Center. The pandemic created a child care crisis that forced many families out of the workforce.

  • President Biden in April signed an executive action aiming to make child care more accessible.
  • The federal government spent billions on expanding child care access in 2020 and 2021, and some states like California have also recently passed legislation to make child care more accessible.

Yes, but: Many of the federal funding programs meant to alleviate the crisis are expiring at the end of September.

  • That could mean tens of thousands of child care programs could close and leave parents in the lurch.

Between the lines: Child care workers are among the lowest-paid workers in the U.S.

  • The median annual pay for such workers, a vast majority of whom are women, was $28,520 last year, according to the report.
  • 24% of child care workers identify as Hispanic/Latino, while 14% identify as Black and 4% as Asian.
  • "The reason that they're paid so little is really rooted in our history of discrimination and oppression of people of color by the dominant white culture, frankly," says Kruckel. "If you think about it, we are a nation that's built on enslaving people to care for children for free."

What to watch: The Child Care for Working Families Act (CCWFA), introduced in Congress every year since 2017 without success, would tackle some of the issues around child care, Kruckel says.

  • The bill has been referred to committees in the House and Senate after being reintroduced in late April, but it's unclear whether it'll be a priority this year.

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