High Quality Child Care Is Out of Reach for Working Families

In recent decades most Americans have endured stagnant hourly pay, despite significant economy-wide income growth (Bivens and Mishel 2015). In essence, only a fraction of overall economic growth is trickling down to typical households. There is no silver bullet for ensuring ordinary Americans share in the country’s prosperity; instead, it will take a range of policies. Some should give workers more leverage in the labor market, and some should expand social insurance and public investments to boost incomes. An obvious example of the latter is helping American families cope with the high cost of child care.

The high cost of child care has received attention from an array of policymakers. For example, in his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama cited child care affordability as a key to helping middle-class families feel more secure in a world of constant change (White House 2015). New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recognized similar concerns and released an interagency implementation plan for free, high-quality, full-day universal prekindergarten (NYC 2014). High quality, dependable, and affordable child care for children of all ages is more important than ever, especially since having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families.

This paper uses a number of benchmarks to gauge the affordability of child care across the country. It begins by explaining how child care costs fit into EPI’s basic family budget thresholds, which measure the income families need in order to attain a modest yet adequate standard of living in 618 communities. The report then compares child care costs to state minimum wages and public college tuition. Finally, to determine how child care costs differ by location and family composition, the paper reconstructs budgets for two-parent, two-child families in 10 locations to include the higher cost of infant care, compares these families’ child care costs to those of families without infants, and compares costs for both family types with metro area median incomes.

– Economic Policy Institute

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