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Study: High-Quality Child Care Hits Working Family Budgets Hard

Child care (particularly infant care) in the United States has been repeatedly criticized for being beyond expensive.

In some states, including New York, Maryland and Wyoming, the cost of sending a 4-year-old to daycare far exceeds the cost of sending an 18-year-old to a public in-state college. And considering there are nearly 11 million children under 5 years old who need child care in this country, many U.S. family budgets are affected.

Findings from the Economic Policy Institute, published today, reveal that those figures are especially daunting for working-class Americans — specifically those making minimum wage, which varies from state to state but must be at least $7.25 per hour.

The EPI studied the cost of day-care centers across the country and compared them to the annual income of two-parent, two-child families in different areas in the U.S.

Researchers further delved into the minimum or "budget thresholds" for U.S. families, "which measure the income families need in order to attain a modest yet adequate standard of living in 618 communities.

For example, in Morristown, Tenn., a two-parent, two-child family needs at least $49,114 per year to maintain an adequate standard of living, as compared to Washington, D.C., where that minimum figure jumps to $106,493. And, according to the study, child care eats up a big chunk of that income.

"Among families with two children (a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old), child care costs exceed rent in 500 out of 618 family budget areas," the study reports.

And infant care is even more expensive — because, as the study reports, child care is a labor-intensive industry that requires a low student-to-teacher ratio.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that child care not exceed 10 percent of a family's annual income, yet "only in a handful" of communities surveyed by EPI did child-care costs achieve that benchmark.

While the findings highlight the often exorbitant cost of child care, with infant care in some states exceeding the cost of public in-state college tuition by as much as 308 percent (that would be Washington, D.C.), what the study does not define is what is considered high-quality daycare. What does that mean in comparison with simply daycare or even low-quality daycare?

Also, families from low-income areas are probably not taking their children to higher-cost daycare centers in more expensive areas. Not only that, but families earning incomes at the poverty level and, in some cases 200 percent above the poverty level, have access to both state and federal child-care assistance.

How do those numbers figure in?

Image via Twenty20/dario41

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