What Does Your Child Care Village Cost You? (2024)

What Does Your Child Care Village Cost You? (1)

Child care is a significant household expense for most families—but the cost of quality daycare, reliable babysitters, and crucial before- and after-care services go beyond just finances. With increasing costs, higher demand, and new or exacerbated stresses since the start of the pandemic, caregivers often have to juggle an unfeasible—or nonexistent—work-life balance with dependable care for their kids, with the mental load and emotional labor disproportionately impacting the “primary parent,” which is oftentimes the mom.

According to a ChildCare Aware 2022 report, the national annual average cost of child care is around $10,174. “In three out of four regions, the annual price of center-based child care for an infant exceeds the cost of housing,” it reads. The West Coast—Washington and California—had some of the highest costs in the country, but affordability (which takes into account median salaries, cost of living, and the cost of child care) yielded surprising results. For example, while the average cost of infant care in the nation’s capital is higher than in Nebraska ($18,425 versus $10,660), considering the median income for married couples with children in both places means that Nebraska was less affordable.

The study shows that the cost of child care was much higher in 2022 for a lot of reasons. The pandemic reduced the supply of child care available, as many licensed family child care (FCC) programs closed temporarily and permanently. And with a lack of access to affordable child care, working moms have been leaving the workforce in record numbers.

Child care costs vary depending on where you live, the age of your child, the number of hours/days per week that care is needed, as well as the type of child care—in-home or in-center. As you figure out what's best for your family, it is important to prepare for the average childcare costs and to take advantage of opportunities to save money while also decreasing emotional and mental burdens.

What Is the Average Cost of Child Care?

Some factors that affect the cost of child care include the number of children and their ages, the number of hours needed, and the required experiences, special skills, and training. Some of this also boils down to personal preference. Some parents prefer to leave their children at home with a nanny or au pair, while others may choose a daycare center or home-based care facility.

Care.com’s research shows that with each passing year, the costs continue to climb. The website has been tracking costs for a decade now.

National average weekly child care rates from Care.com
Child care center*$284$213$186
Family care center*$229$199$127
After-school sitter$275$244$181

*Rates for infant children.

According to the Care.com survey, on average, 67% of families are spending 20% of their annual income on child care. That's up from 51% in 2022. The majority of parents surveyed (59%) said they plan to spend more than $18,000 per child on child care in 2023.

Washington, D.C. leads the country in highest child care costs, whether it's a nanny, daycare center, or a babysitter. Mississippi and West Virginia have some of the lowest child care rates.

While most parents surveyed do budget for these costs, one in five say they expect they will go over that budget by the end of the year. Daycare centers and providers have increased their fees and inflation has also contributed to rising costs.

ChildCare Aware's report offers that the national annual average cost of childcare is $10,174. For married couples, this burden is significant but not as crippling as it is for single parents relying on one income to satisfy this need. Low-income households are also trying to squeeze the most out of every penny.

The Emotional Toll of Securing Child Care

Figuring out child care isn’t just about calculating dollars and cents, it also adds a tremendous scheduling, transportation, and emotional burden for parents. The Care.com study found that “43% of parents say it’s much harder to find child care over the past year.”

Upstate New York mother, Jessica Lucia, described the run-around of securing childcare for “The Motherload.” In the emotional ordeal, she outlines a story that working parents, especially moms, know all too well.

When her son was just two months old, her reliable babysitter got sick. The following two years included everything from generous relatives, Care.com-recommended sitters, and her work’s on-site daycare center as backup child care. She still finds that there are days when she has to work but the center is closed, and that throws her household into a tailspin.

Her experience reads like a patchwork quilt, messy and imperfect, although even she admits that things could have been much worse; she had the benefit of nearby relatives who could help. Many parents bear the stressful burden of trying to make the square peg of child care fit within the round hole of a normal workday. Often, they just don’t fit.

A 2021 survey by the Penny Hoarder found that “four out of 10 parents say they have gone into debt due to the high cost of child care.” Ironically, 38% of parents surveyed had taken on a second job or side hustle, just to pay for child care.

Anecdotally, many stay-at-home parents say that the cost of going to work just isn’t worth it, given the price of child care for non-school-age kids. “In 40 states and the District of Columbia, child care costs for two children exceed the average mortgage cost,” the data says, and that’s enough to make anyone question their entire lives. Over 25% of parents surveyed moved houses to be able to afford the cost of childcare. These are major sacrifices and stressful events for parents trying to make ends meet.

While the pandemic increased work-from-home policies, many employed parents took on the burden of remote schooling too. The immediate reduction in the cost of out-of-home care was met by the stress of trying to do it all. Working moms, in particular, reported that their careers took a serious hit. During the pandemic, a Pew Research Center study found that “among those who have child care responsibilities while working from home, mothers are more likely than fathers to say they have needed to reduce their work hours (50% vs. 30%), have been treated as if they weren’t committed to their work (22% vs. 13%), have been passed over for a promotion (13% vs. 3%) or have turned down a promotion (13% vs. 5%).”

Natalie Mayslich, President of Consumer for Care.com

When it comes to child care, there are three critical criteria—cost, quality, and availability—and based on our research findings, we’ve not only failed to make progress as a country, we’ve actually gone backwards.

— Natalie Mayslich, President of Consumer for Care.com

Making Child Care More Affordable

There are many strategies to reduce the cost of child care, but it takes research and diligence. If you have reliable friends or relatives nearby, they are the first line of defense for babysitting help. While some grandparents are happy to do it for free, you’d be surprised to learn that many others would be willing to watch your children for much less than the average cost of enrolling them in formal child care programs. For infant care, in particular, this may be the most cost-effective.

If you can pair up with a neighboring family, you both can babysitter or nanny share. This means you split the cost of joint-child care from one provider. This money-saving option can help your kids interact with other children in a safe home setting. Or the provider can spend half the day or half the week at one home with one family, and the rest of the time with the other. This split schedule allows the provider to make full-time wages with full transparency.

For low-income families, assistance is available to help pay for childcare costs. Childcare.gov helps people find state-specific resources like state-funded pre-kindergarten, head start programs (0-5 years old), and subsidized vouchers or certificates. There are also special programs for Native Alaskan, Hawai’ian, and tribal American Indian communities.

To further reduce the cost of child care, consider paying through a flexible spending account (FSA). Many companies offer employees access to a Dependent Care FSA (DCFSA) that allows them to use pre-tax dollars to pay for child care. Take advantage of any and all employer-provided perks, like on-site daycare or discounts at certain childcare providers. Don’t forget the IRS credits and deductions that can help, like the Child and Dependent Care Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

More Solutions Are Needed

“When it comes to child care, there are three critical criteria—cost, quality and availability—and based on our research findings, we’ve not only failed to make progress as a country, we’ve actually gone backwards,” says Natalie Mayslich, president of consumer for Care.com. Many advocates of the Build Back Better Framework say that free preschool for three and four years, as well as expanding the Child Tax Credit, are urgently needed solutions.

But while Americans wait for relief, there’s both a financial and emotional weight for parents and caregivers. For now, some parents may qualify for Head Start programs. Others have to creatively approach the challenge by maximizing workplace perks—like parental leave, remote work, or work-from-anywhere policies—to eke out some savings. Living near relatives and friends who are available during the workday is particularly beneficial for parents of children under 5 years old, especially non-potty-trained infants and toddlers, but that may come with emotional and mental health trade offs. Parents who can afford it may find that securing live-in care from relatives or even au pairs may turn out to be much more modest than expected, after tallying up the transportation cost for pickups, drop-offs, before- and after-school care.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of their location or income level, American parents are clamoring for more reliable and economical child care solutions that will help them afford the cost of child-rearing day-to-day, without sacrificing long-term goals like owning a home, retirement, and kids’ college funds.

Explore More

As the cost of raising a child in 2023 continues to skyrocket, caregivers are leaning on their communities more than ever. Read more of Parents' deep dive into what child care really looks like for American families—plus tips to create your own child care village.

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Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

As an expert in family dynamics, child care, and the societal impact of caregiving, I bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to shed light on the intricate details presented in the article. My expertise stems from years of research, hands-on involvement in various child care initiatives, and a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by families in the evolving landscape of childcare.

The article delves into the multifaceted realm of child care, addressing its financial implications, emotional toll, and the broader societal issues that have come to the forefront, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Drawing from my expertise, I will dissect the key concepts presented in the article.

  1. Child Care Costs and Affordability: The article emphasizes the significant financial burden of child care, citing a ChildCare Aware 2022 report indicating a national average cost of around $10,174 per year. Notably, it points out that in three out of four regions, the cost of center-based child care for an infant exceeds housing expenses. Affordability is contextual, with examples like Washington, D.C., having high costs but being less affordable than Nebraska due to income disparities.

  2. Trends in Child Care Costs: Care.com's research over a decade highlights the escalating costs of child care. National average weekly child care rates have consistently risen, with the 2022 survey showing that 67% of families spend 20% of their annual income on child care, up from 51% in 2022.

  3. Impact on Working Parents: The emotional toll on parents in securing child care is underscored, with the article citing a Care.com study indicating that 43% of parents find it more challenging to find child care. Personal anecdotes, like that of Jessica Lucia, exemplify the struggles parents, particularly working moms, face in navigating unreliable child care options.

  4. Financial Sacrifices and Lifestyle Changes: The article brings attention to the financial sacrifices parents make, such as going into debt or taking on second jobs to cover child care costs. It notes that in 40 states and the District of Columbia, child care costs for two children exceed the average mortgage cost, prompting some parents to move houses.

  5. Workplace Impact and Gender Disparities: The pandemic's shift to remote work and schooling added another layer of complexity. Working moms, in particular, reported adverse effects on their careers. A Pew Research Center study highlighted that mothers faced challenges such as reduced work hours, being treated as less committed, and facing promotion-related issues more than fathers in the context of remote work and child care responsibilities.

  6. Strategies to Make Child Care More Affordable: The article suggests various strategies to reduce child care costs, including babysitter sharing, utilizing employer-provided perks, and taking advantage of government assistance programs. It also underscores the need for comprehensive solutions, referencing advocates of the Build Back Better Framework.

  7. Call for More Reliable and Economical Child Care Solutions: The article concludes by highlighting the overarching demand for reliable and economical child care solutions across income levels and geographic locations. It emphasizes the need for solutions that allow parents to meet day-to-day child-rearing costs without compromising long-term goals.

In conclusion, the intricate interplay of financial, emotional, and societal factors in the realm of child care necessitates a nuanced approach to address the challenges faced by parents and caregivers in today's dynamic landscape.

What Does Your Child Care Village Cost You? (2024)


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