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Day Care Costs More Than College?

By sandymaple |

Federal guidelines recommend that families spend no more than 10% of their income on child care expenses.  But in the real world, many spend two and three times that amount because they simply have no choice.  And while quality child care is expensive no matter where you live, in some states it now costs more to send your kid to day care than it does to send your kid to college.

A report released today by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) finds that in 39 states and Washington, DC, the average annual cost of childcare for an infant has skyrocketed to the point where it now exceeds that of a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college.

What’s more, in every region in the U.S., the average center-based child care fees for an infant exceed the average annual amount that families spend on food. And in 24 states, families spend more on center-based child care fees than they do on rent.

The numbers in this report are based on 2009 data gathered in January of this year.  But with day care centers feeling the pinch as more and more out-of-work parents keep their kids at home, one could reasonably expect that the costs will go even higher.

Regardless of how you feel about working moms and day care in general, it is a fact of life for many families. But how can parents go to work in order to provide for their families if they can’t afford quality child care for their kids?  In short, they can’t.

Image: iStockphoto.com/FotoShoot

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31 thoughts on “Day Care Costs More Than College?

  1. bob says:

    Much like colleges, many daycare centers provide grants to assist those with lower incomes. Those grant monies come out of the fees paid by the other parents, driving up the price tag for those who can ‘afford’ it. The quotes are to note that the daycare decides what you can afford and you either find a way or you go away.

  2. KD says:

    I have two kids in day care (ages 1 and 3), and it is by far the largest expense we have each month.

  3. MomofBeans says:

    I love that “Working Mom” picture that keeps popping up. I look just like that (on opposite day).

  4. Samantha says:

    We are spending so much money on daycare that our baby will just have to stay at home for college. Oh the irony!

  5. Lisa says:

    We spend more money on daycare than our mortgage, insurance and a car payment combined. We spend more than $18000 per year for our youngest and more than $12000 per year for our oldest. Tuition at the flagship public school in our state is about $14,000 for in state students for two semesters.

  6. Gretchen Powers says:

    30K for daycare? I hope you are making a good salary!

  7. Lisa says:

    Gretchen, I bring home almost nothing after taxes (since I am married, I get taxed at a higher rate than I would alone) and the daycare payments… but I have amazing health insurance that pays 100% for medical services my son needs (most insurance companies won’t pay anything for it) which would cost us out of pocket $250 a week.

  8. Samantha says:

    It would cost me twice as much to send my baby to daycare than for me to take 5 classes and my local college. When my husband and I did out the costs, I realized I would I would bring home 17$ a week after taxes and daycare costs– and that was as a preschool teacher. That would barely cover the disposables I would be required to provide for her and gas to and from work for the week. It’s sad; we can’t really afford for me to go back to work.

  9. Gretchen Powers says:

    Crazy, crazy stuff…the healthcare thing is nuts, that’s for sure.

  10. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I want the dress that working mom has on in the stock photo.

  11. Michelle Horton says:

    The only daycare in my area (daycare, not even preschool) that’s decent enough to send my child costs $16,000 a year. That’s like a state school tuition. And Bob, they provide a grant to low-income families but it’s on a lottery system. So even if you do qualify you have to cross your fingers that your number gets pulled from the bag. Ridiculous.

  12. Samantha says:

    I’m keen on the bag.

  13. PlumbLucky says:

    I’m not sure that the guys in the office would know what the heck to think if I ever showed up dressed like that. (Considering my line of work, its a little too much) Shoot, once our kids are in school I’ll be getting a whopping raise, at least on paper. Between 25-30K. But I make a danged good salary, and have pretty good healthcare that costs us nothing to boot.

  14. Rosana says:

    It does not make any sense to send your kid to daycare if you cannot pay for it. My mortgage is our biggest expense. If I stay home with my babies we would not have our healthcare, that like yours Lisa, pays 100% of the services, thank God, plus I will not be able to get the free money for my 401K and have a the nice savings account we have in case of emergency.

  15. Jenny says:

    This is how we ended up a low income, one income family. I don’t make enough money (without the degree I’m currently trying to finish) to pay for daycare. If I do have a job, then we don’t qualify for low-income assistance for daycare. It’s really a PITA.

    Lucky us in our state there are two different preschool programs that are free to low income families starting at age 3, so now I can get back to school and finish my degree so I can pay for afterschool care by the time my kids need me to be working to pay for sports costs and larger school supply lists and extra food for growing teenagers.

  16. Manjari says:

    I’m in the same situation, Samantha. In a way, I can’t afford to go back to work. If I had trained for a more lucrative career, I guess I would be able to pay tuition for both twins.

  17. JEssica says:

    My SIL was a SAHM and while she was at home she was able to obtain a degree in a lucrative field (nursing) so maybe if you work harder Manjari you could improve your circumstances for your family.

  18. JEssica says:

    But if you can’t work harder, I wouldn’t blame you I couldn’t do it. My SIL is made of sterner stuff than I am made of.

  19. Manjari says:

    JEssica, you have no idea how hard I do or don’t work. I am not planning to change careers. I have an MS in Education and plenty of teaching experience. There just aren’t any teaching positions available near me right now that would pay enough to cover both kids’ tuition. And the way you worded your comment is sort of weird. I can’t tell if you’re being insulting or not.

    Also, I want the bag AND the dress.

  20. Gretchen Powers says:

    Wow…I thought I was the resident harsh bitch, but I guess I am not. If Manjari doesn’t HAVE to work, which she clearly doesn’t, it would seem that her family is doing just fine, and probably better than if she put those kids in daycare. If you don’t HAVE to work and it doesn’t make financial sense, then for heaven’s sake, why would you? To prove some kind of point about feminism? Please. And I don’t want the bag, the dress, or the cold, distant look in this woman’s eyes. I’d rather wear holey yoga pants and be home with a baby.

  21. michelle says:

    JEssica, someone had to be supporting your SIL while she was a SAHM and going to school. “Sterner stuff” — lol. What about single mothers? How are they going to pay for daycare and go to school? Anyway, it’s so odd that NONE of you question *why* daycare has to be out of reach. You all just accept it as a given, and your solution to the problem is to tell other women to suck it up and stay home if they can’t afford day care. No, it never occurred to any of you that we can demand subsidized high-quality day care programs, or some other solution to the problem. If we don’t do something, not only will we condemn many working families to unnecessary poverty, but we will continue to restrict American economic productivity. I’m kind of shocked that so many of us prefer to scold other women into accepting the status quo, rather than discussing how to change it.

  22. Gretchen Powers says:

    It costs alot of money because it’s important. Would you want to send your kid to cheap daycare? “Demand subsidized high-quality day care programs”? Are you kidding? Paid for by who? On what grounds? How about people just take care of their own babies? Don’t you think if there were fewer people in the workforce, wages would go up? Don’t you think there is some possibility that all these women flooding the workforce in the past 30 years contributed to the situation we have now where fewer and fewer men earn enough to support a family. They “raised the bar” for everyone, but raising the bar is not always a good thing. These are the reasons I am not into daycare or supportive of throwing money at something that is bad to begin with. It’s not about judging someone’s parenting or making them feel bad, it’s a much larger economic picture that concerns me.

  23. Manjari says:

    And JEssica, I don’t need to improve my family’s circumstances, because we are fine. I was just commenting that if I DID want to go back to work (which I haven’t until now, when my kids are almost 4), it wouldn’t make financial sense because of the high cost of school for them. If I found just the right situation, then I would want them to be in school more. If I don’t, then I just get to be with them longer.

    And who was watching your SIL’s kids while she was training to be a nurse? You make it sound like she had the freedom to pursue that career change because she was a SAHM. So where were the kids while she was earning that degree? Totally aside from being made of “sterner stuff,” doing something like that requires either a spouse to watch the kids during those hours, or some sort of childcare (the cost of which is exactly what we’re talking about here).

  24. michelle says:

    Gretchen, I have an economics degree and I can say that you’re wrong. Many studies have shown definitively that countries that do not use their female human capital (like Japan and many countries in the Middle East) suffer from smaller economies, stagnant growth rates and lower standards of living overall. Female participation in the US and Europe are major reasons why these countries are rich. The reason “fewer men earn enough to support a family” in the US now vs before is related to the rise of the low-paid service economy, where many jobs are considered “women’s work” that men don’t want to take. And this happened because manufacturing jobs went overseas to cheaper countries. So…maybe more men should be open to becoming teachers and nurses rather than sitting around unemployed. Also, if you stop to consider your own ignorance for a second, even in traditional societies people don’t “just take care of their own babies.” Women work, even if it’s in the fields or whatever, and others pitch in for childcare.

  25. Gretchen Powers says:

    That’s one way to look at it, sure, and some valid points making observations about other cultures. I would like to remind that I never said women should not work, though. I don’t think babies should be left in daycare under the age of one, unless it is absolutely necessary to keep a family afloat. I think it’s great if women can find jobs they can balance with their children as their priority. In traditional societies women may work “in the fields or whatever” but I bet you when their children were BABIES they were strapped to them so they could nurse on demand and such, and I bet they did this for a year or more…so, perhaps you might consider your own ignorance. Life is more than “economics”.

  26. michelle says:

    Life is more than economics, yes, but too many of us do not understand how economics works to influence family life, so we don’t have the tools we need to change what doesn’t work and make family life better for everyone. Do you see what I mean? The working poor often suffer bad outcomes for their children (and permanent poverty) because of the lack of support for families. Middle class families also struggle unnecessarily, and are forced to spend less time with their children than parents in other countries. In the US we are perfectly happy for government to fund ever-increasing prison populations (paying $50K/yr for a criminal to live well on our dime) and huge, expensive, pointless wars, but when it comes to subsidizing childcare or fixing public education or guaranteeing some form of maternity leave for the working poor (who currently get ZERO leave), people complain that this is going too far and tax dollars shouldn’t have to pay for that. These are economic priorities that have a real impact on our children. It is simply not realistic anymore to expect every family to have at least one stay-at-home parent, so the point is to come up with the best possible solutions. What would you suggest?

  27. Laura says:

    i am in a “lucrative” career as many of you said – Nursing – it still costs me more than a car payment to send my kids to daycare for two days a week ( I work 3- 12 hour shifts a week, one on the weekend so my DH has the kids)- because most daycares require you to pay for 3! It is more than $600/mo for a nice place. I would not be able to do it, though, if I were a single mother since that would mean my kids would be in daycare from 6am to 8:30pm three days a week! my best solution? Mothers help each other out – I used to trade days with another nurse and it worked well for awhile

  28. Gretchen Powers says:

    michelle, I am beginning to soften and agree that perhaps some assistance toward the first year is needed for families, funds could be taken from the ridiculous wars and the prison stuff, like you say, but I still think this should impel women to stay home with babies the first year and that people should limit themselves to 2 children in the interest of both the economy and the environment…I’m not Americans are responsible enough to do this. There is a great discussion going on on the NYT website about work culture/vacation in the US vs. Europe, Germany in particular, and the German culture sounds much more appealing to me, it did say somewhere, though that a good many German mothers do not work…I fully intend to work (more—I work now) when my kid is older, but I just bristle at some of the attitudes towards children (they can thrive anywhere, money is more important) and entitlements in the US…

  29. [...] (How expensive? In the majority of states, the cost of placing an infant in a daycare setting now exceeds that of tuition at a public university.) State subsidized daycare is scarce, and scandals not infrequent. Good quality daycare is in such [...]

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