The NCSL Blog


By Alison May and Julie Poppe

A pair of recent reports highlight the overall costs associated with child care including child care provider wages over 25 years.

For nearly 10 years, Child Care Aware of America has produced an annual report, "Parents and the High Cost of Child Care," looking at the costs associated with child care. "Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Early Childhood Workforce 25 Years after the National Child Care Staffing Study" was produced by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) and is an updated look at progress made since the release of the National Child Care Staffing Study in 1989. Each of these reports sheds light on an important component of child care.

Research shows that high-quality early learning for low-income children can make a big difference by helping close the achievement gap. Much agreement, often touted by noteworthy economists, exists around the statement that early learning is a smart investment—an investment that helps the economy flourish by growing a viable workforce. For many working families child care is too expensive. The average cost of infant child care at a child care center was $10,000, which is higher than the average cost of in-state tuition at a public college, according to Child Care Aware of America. 

Not only is child care expensive, but the wages earned by those providing the care is dismally low. The average child care provider salary in 2013 was $21,490, according to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment .

The Child Care Aware of America report examines the costs associated with child care. Child care can be provided as center- or home-based care. Care in a center is typically more expensive then home-based care. Additionally, care for infants is substantially more costly then toddler care.

Child care, a major expense in family budgets, often exceeds the cost of housing, college tuition, food and transportation. In 2013, families paid more for child care than in previous years. According to findings from the report, "Parents and the High Cost of Child Care," it is most expensive for families to provide care in the Northeast—Massachusetts and New York. It can cost as much as $16,000 a year depending on the age and center specifics. In contrast, care in the South—Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee—is overall less expensive, averaging $3,500. Interested in specific information about how your state stacks up? View the full report and learn more about specific states and areas of the country.

The CSCCE report highlights, among other things, the very low salaries earned by child care workers. For example, the 2013 mean hourly wage of a child care provider in New York was $11.94, in Tennessee it was $9.15 and only $8.37 in Mississippi. Some telling commentary from the CSCCE report indicates that in 2012, close to half of all child care workers were from families enrolled in at least one public support program and many often live with economic insecurity.

Research shows a majority of a child’s critical brain development happens by age 5 and 11 million children under the age of 5 are enrolled in child care. Yet, child care providers are one of the lowest paid professions. Since many parents need to work, the role of child care providers is an important one to consider. This conversation, evidenced by the president’s comments during his 2015 State of the Union Address about the importance of child care costs as well as the wages earned by providers will continue.

Some state legislatures are already looking into this issue area and introducing legislation in their states. Examples include Connecticut, Colorado and New York.

  • Colorado HB1001 | Representative Brittany Pettersen(D): supports the child care workforce by proposing to create an early childhood educator development fund.
  • Connecticut HB5808 | Representative Daniel Fox (D): Increases eligibility for child care subsidies, assists working parents by allowing them to remain eligible for child care subsidies if their income temporarily increases.
  • New York A1083 / SB1422 | Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D) and Senator David Carlucci (D): directs the office of children and family services to study and report on assessing the cost and availability of child care for working parents, including those families at or near poverty.

NCSL will continue to track these topics and invites you to learn more about child care. We will highlight this topic, among others, in our winter 2015 E-update due out by at the end of February 2015.

Alison May and Julie Poppe work in NCSL’s Early Care and Education project.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.