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The Politics of Affordable Childcare: Facts

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The United States lags way behind other developed nations in creating workforce policies that support families. Access to affordable, quality childcare is one of the biggest reasons the U.S. ranks low among international peers for, among other things, women in the workforce, parent satisfaction and quality of life overall.

Pew Research Center reported that the cost of childcare has risen 70 percent in the last 30 years, way beyond increases in the cost of living. In 31 cities, a year of childcare costs more than a year of college. Researchers assume astronomical costs and too few openings are at least partially responsible for the drastic rise over the last 15 years in the number of women leaving the workforce to stay home after the birth of a child.

Though three-quarters of working women will get pregnant, affordable childcare policies and programs are, at best, still in the fledgling stage talk of tax credits and universal childcare are rarely, if at all, mentioned in election 2016 debates.

Voting parents (and those who hope to be in the next four years) would be wise to find out where the candidates stand on this family issue. To do that, it's important to first understand these basic facts about childcare in the U.S.:

RELATED: The New Mom, Thanks to Rising Childcare Costs

The average cost of center-based daycare in the United States is $11,666 per year per child, or $972 per month. A job that pays $10 an hour amounts to an annual income of about $20,000, assuming the work is full time. The average median yearly salary for a woman in the U.S. is $37,791.

In nearly 81 percent of U.S. towns, the average price of two-kid childcare costs more than rent.

The cheapest childcare on average in the nation, without adjusting for income or cost of living, is $344 per month in rural South Carolina. The most expensive costs $1,472 per month, in Washington, D.C.

Though childcare is expensive, the hourly wages of childcare workers are among the lowest of any major occupation.

Three-quarters of full-time employed mothers use some form of family care at least part of the time.

Fewer than one in three children today have a full-time, stay-at-home parent. In 1975, more than half of all children had a stay-at-home parent—usually the mother.

Almost one-quarter of children under the age of 5 are in some form of organized childcare arrangement, which includes daycare centers, nurseries and preschools.

Family care is the most common type of childcare arrangement among all marital and employment statuses. Three-quarters of full-time employed mothers use some form of family care at least part of the time.

Only about 30 percent of low-income families using center-based childcare, and 16 percent using an in-home care center for a child under the age of 6, receive subsidies.

Mothers are now the sole or primary income provider in a record 40 percent of households with children, nearly four times the rate from 1960.

While most stay-at-home parents are mothers, fathers represent a growing share of all at-home parents—16 percent in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1989.

However, quarter of these stay-at-home fathers report that they are home mainly because they cannot find a job, and the largest share of stay-at-home fathers (35 percent) is at home due to illness or disability.

When women—especially women making minimum wage—have access to affordable childcare, they're able to stay in the workforce longer.

Nearly three-quarters say the increasing number of working women has made it harder for parents to raise children, and half say that it has made marriages harder to succeed.

Women, especially women of color, are more likely to work in low-wage jobs and often have rigid, unpredictable schedules that can change with little notice, making it difficult for working parents—especially mothers—to anticipate their schedules and arrange for childcare. This puts their employment at risk.

According to a 2014 study Pew Research Center, 12 percent of working mothers are living in poverty, compared with 34 percent of stay-at-home mothers.

A 2013 study conducted by the Center for American Progress found that women lose $274,044 and men lose $233,716 in lifetime wages and benefits because they leave the workforce early due to caregiving responsibilities.

Working fathers tend to get an average 6 percent salary boost when they have children, compared to mothers, whose salaries decrease an average 4 percent for each child.

A Pew poll found that about half of respondents say children are better off if a mother stays unemployed at home. Nearly three-quarters say the increasing number of working women has made it harder for parents to raise children, and half say that it has made marriages harder to succeed.

RELATED: What About the Part-Time Working Mom?

Roughly four in 10 mothers say they have taken a significant amount of time off from work or reduced their work hours to care for a child or other family member. A quarter say they have quit work altogether to take care of these familial responsibilities. Just 24 percent of fathers say they have taken a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member.

Roughly equal shares of working fathers (48 percent) and mothers (52 percent) say they would prefer to be at home raising their children, but they need to work because they need the income.

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