Paying for childcare is now higher than college tuition

Parents struggle to afford adequate care for their children while they work to pay the bills.

Paying for childcare is now just as expensive, if not more, than paying for a college education.  Americans with young children are struggling to keep up with the increasing price of childcare.  Even with both parents contributing towards the household income, childcare expenses for younger children pose major financial difficulties for families.  According to National KIDS COUNT, 65 percent of parents in the labor force have children under the age of six as of 2015.  Unless they have family members who are able watch their children, these families are paying high prices for childcare services because they simply have no other alternative.   The option to stay at home with their children is no longer a financially feasible option for most families in the United States.

A child’s environment during those early ages can have a significant impact on their brain development.

For children under the age of four, full-time childcare is approximately $9,589 per year.   According to New America, this average is now higher than the cost of in-state college tuition—which is currently $9,410 per year.  Usually, the younger the child, the higher the prices are for childcare providers.  These high prices essentially mean that the average American family is spending about 18 percent of their yearly income for childcare.  The increase in childcare costs is nothing new and it has been on the rise for the last couple of years.  Due to such increases, families are having a difficult time trying to make ends meet after paying for childcare costs.  This heavily affects families living below the poverty line.  CNN reported that parents who are minimum-wage workers will use about two-thirds of their income paying for such services.  Leaving them with little to nothing to pay for other expenses, such as rent, car payments, and food.  The increased costs of childcare are leaving families to make frequent changes in their work schedule to make sure that their children are left in the right hands.

When it comes to picking the “right” childcare provider, most families would prefer to send their children to an established and accredited childcare provider.  Parents of young children want to be able to place them in facilities that promote early education and help with social developmental skills.  Research has proven that a child’s brain development is very critical from birth to the age of five.  A child’s environment during those early ages can have a significant impact on their brain development.  Poughkeepsie Journal states that parents who seek other alternatives, such as a babysitter or relative, run the risk of their children falling behind on the learning curve.  Due to the lack of early education, these children are more likely to start kindergarten at a lower level than most of their peers.  This may lead them to having a harder time catching up as they continue with their education.

The need to place children in childcare facilities, that are geared towards helping with early childhood development, is very essential for families who do not have the ability to do so themselves.  But with the current expenses of childcare on the rise, this is not an option for some families because they simply cannot afford it.  The Care Index, found that even though the cost of paying for childcare is very expensive, the pay of the average caregiver does not equate.  So where is the money going?

Business Insider reported that, according to the Care Index Report, part of the reason for rising costs is because the amount of children per teacher is on the rise in early childcare.   In addition, childcare is not highly supported financially when compared to K-12 educational institutions.  Lastly, the Care Index Reports that although families are able to get tax credits through the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, the credit received is capped at a certain amount.  The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit states, “the credit may not be more than $3,000 [for one qualifying individual] or $6,000 [for two or more qualifying individuals].”  The credit tends to only benefit those who make enough to receive tax cuts and does little to help those who do not owe that much in income taxes.  Therefore, low income households will still struggle when it comes to paying for childcare.

Higher-quality educational environments are without a doubt very beneficial to the learning of young children, but at the same time, come at a hefty cost for parents.

Lori Oberheide is the Assistant Superintendent for Communications for Educational Service District 112.  Oberheide explained to OregonLive that when comparing the costs of early childhood education to the cost of college tuition, the similarities shock her.  But when looking at what is needed to keep such high-quality facilities running, Oberheide thinks the costs make sense.  Some of the expenses for such centers include staff salaries and benefits, supplies and materials, food, utilities, and furniture.

Jane Lanigan is the Director of Human Development at Washington State University Vancouver (WSUV), which offers a preschool program.  In an interview with OregonLive, Lanigan stated that childcare nowadays is a lot more than just babysitting children.  “Thinking that high-quality higher education experience should be any different in terms of costs than high-quality early education costs might be the wrong way to think about this,” Lanigan reported.  Expenses for a child to be enrolled in WSUV preschool program totals $11,400 per year—$950 per month.  WSUV’s prices are on the high-end when compared to the average of $9,589 per year.  Lanigan states the high costs are to provide a better learning environment for the children in the program.  The program offers learning spaces that are both inside and outdoors.   Lanigan further told OregonLive that research has shown that providing learning environments outdoors “help kids connect to nature, promote more vigorous physical activity and challenge their gross motor and decision making skills.”

Higher-quality educational environments are without a doubt very beneficial to the learning of young children, but at the same time, come at a hefty cost for parents.  More so, it is especially costly for those whose income falls within the “middle class” range.  For example, WSUV provides financial assistance for families with “low income and receives state assistance.”  If you do not meet those requirements, the families are left to pay the childcare costs, which often leave those families in difficult financial situations.

Danielle Westhoff Smith is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin, and her husband is an attorney for the state.  She recently told NPR that their current monthly payments for childcare services for their 3-year-old and 4-month old cost the largest portion of their other monthly expenses.    Even with both their incomes, they still struggle with the rising cost of childcare.  Danielle and her husband are considering having another child, but have decided to wait until their oldest child is in elementary school or until Danielle reaches a point where she is able to take time off work to stay home with her kids.  She told NPR, “When you talk about finances and planning for the future, I know it’s not enough, and so it makes me nervous, but what options do you have?  Not have children?”

The New America Care Report has started brainstorming ways to make the cost of high-quality childcare more family friendly.  They are looking into “universal paid family leave and by expanding and improving cash assistance programs.”  It is very important to find a system that is able to work with the incomes types of all families.  Parents should always have the option to place their children in a high-quality childcare facility that will beneficial to their children without worrying about how they will make ends meet for next month expenses.

Avatar photo
About Amaka Madu, Senior Staff Writer Emeritus (18 Articles)
Amaka Madu is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Political Science. Following her first year of law school, Amaka interned at the North Carolina Court of Appeals with Honorable Judge Tyson and during the second half of her summer, she participated in the Baylor Academy of the Advocate study abroad program in St. Andrews, Scotland. Amaka also currently serves as Secretary for Campbell University’s Black Law Student Association.
Contact: Email