The fact that childcare is expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, is nothing new. For years, families have been confronted with high-priced childcare that sometimes leads to one spouse stepping away from the workforce, reasoning that the cost would have matched, or exceeded their annual salary. But what might be surprising are the vast differences in exactly how burdensome childcare is from state-to-state.
According to a 2014 study by Child Care Aware of America, an organization that advocates for policies and resources that support high-quality childcare, the average price of center-based, infant childcare in the state of New York cost about 15.9 percent of the median, annual state income for a married couple. In Louisiana, the same service costs only about 6.9 percent of the annual median income for a married couple. The burden of childcare prices becomes much more acute when looking at single-parent households: The average cost of daycare for an infant would cost a median-income, single mom in D.C. 83 percent of her salary, while in South Dakota it would cost her less than 25 percent of her annual salary, the study found.
So what exactly is behind the difference in costliness? There are lots of variables: Wages and cost of living are of course part of the equation. In places with higher-earners, or in states where things like rent or food costs less, the burden of childcare is likely to be somewhat reduced. Regulations and licensing requirements for childcare centers play a part too, making it pricier to run a childcare business in some states than others, explains Abbe Kovacik, executive director of the Capital District Child Care Council in New York. But the reasons behind the discrepancies offer little consolation to low-income families who have a difficult time scraping together funds for childcare, or who wind up leaving their children in less-than-optimal arrangements in order to go to work.
Felicia Chandler, a mother of five-month-old twins in Schenectady, New York is left to decide between the childcare that she wants and the childcare she can afford—a common issue for many low-income, working families. Though Chandler and her husband both work full-time and qualify for a subsidy funded through the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, she says that they have yet to receive any assistance, though she applied during the summer of 2014. A representative from the Workforce Development Institute, which administers the subsidy program, confirms that Chandler's name is on the list, but has not yet been chosen. The representative mentioned that another woman, who she called recently to offer a subsidy, was on the list for over a year before receiving assistance.