Jun 20, 2023 - Education

Child care costs more than college in Washington state

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

The average annual cost of sending a toddler to daycare in Washington tops $14,000, according to a new report — and it's about $2,100 more than sending your child to the University of Washington for a year.

Why it matters: The report released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows how deeply families struggle to stay afloat while working and paying for child care — and how some have been forced to quit jobs to stay home with a kid.

  • Child care costs have increased by 220% since 1990, outpacing inflation, per the report.

By the numbers: In Washington state, the average annual cost for center-based toddler care is $14,355.

  • That's 39% of a single parent's median income or 12% of a family's, according to the report, which is based on the U.S. Census Bureau's 2022 National Database of Childcare Prices.
  • It's also 17% higher than the price of UW undergraduate tuition for three quarters (a standard academic year), which is $12,242 this year.
  • Only five other states — Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York — and Washington, D.C., had a higher average annual cost for this type of care.

Zoom in: In Seattle, costs run even higher than the state average. It's easy to drop $25,000 or $30,000 per child annually for center-based child care. (Source: Axios Seattle reporter Melissa Santos' bank account.)

The big picture: Nationwide, the average annual cost of child care for one child in 2021 was $10,600 — more than one-third of a single parent's median income, according to the report.

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

What they're saying: "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.

What we're watching: Washington's new capital gains tax is intended to raise money to bolster the state's early learning and child care programs.

  • Although the tax was upheld as constitutional earlier this year by the state's highest court, opponents could still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to get it overturned.
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