The NCSL Blog


By Alison May

Every week in the United States, nearly 11 million children younger than age five are in some type of child care arrangement, whether that be center-based, home-based, or family and neighbor care.

Child with blocksEarly childhood programs, including child care, have been shown to play a critical role in providing healthy and strong development, especially if it is comprehensive and high quality.

Child care is a necessity for many families but quality affordable care can be difficult to find.

Child Care Aware of America (CCA) has compiled data from the states about child care costs over the past 10 years. Their 2016 report Parents and the High Cost of Child Care provides the average cost of care for each state and the percent of median income married and single parents pay for care.

Child Care Aware of America found that in 2015 child care costs for families remained extremely high, and the need for quality affordable care continued. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services standard any child care that costs more than 7 percent of a family’s income is considered unaffordable. Based on this standard CCA found that in 49 states and D.C. the cost of center-based infant care is unaffordable; care is considered affordable in Louisiana where it is 6.7 percent of income.

Regardless of setting the cost of child care for infants is higher than for preschoolers and care provided in centers is always costlier than home care. Center-based infant care is more expensive than one year of college tuition at a four-year public university in 30 states and D.C. 

The cost of child care for many families exceeds the cost of housing, college tuition, transportation, or food.

The average cost of child care varies by region. The report indicates:

  • The Midwest average is $17,733 and is the largest expense for families.
  • In the Northeast child care averages $22,415 and is also the largest expense.
  • In the South child care averages $13,861 and is the second largest expense after housing.
  • In the West child care averages $17,625 and is the second largest expense after housing.

Child care is an important work support that allows parents to work, be productive at their workplace and provide financially for their family. Lack of child care can mean missed work and costs to employers. 

The report also includes information on child care provider earnings and what they label as child care deserts, which are frequently experienced in rural America.

Looking for more information about child care? Visit the early childhood 101 webpage for more on this topic. Also, view the early care and education legislative database that tracks legislation from the 2008-2017 sessions for the 50 states and territories and can be searched by state, topic, status, primary sponsor, bill number or keyword.

Alison May is a staff coordinator in NCSL’s Children and Families program.

Contact Alison.

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About the NCSL Blog

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.