Rising college costs and the legacy of debt that higher ed leaves in its wake are pressing social and financial issues in the United States. But the economic hardships of parenting start much earlier for many Americans—thanks to the money pit that is child care.
The stay-at-home versus daily day care debate, a common topic among parents, doesn’t get much play in broader public discourse. But a report from Child Care Aware America showing that the annual cost of day care exceeds in-state tuition at public universities in a staggering 31 states is changing that.
That’s right, in two-thirds of the country, it’s more expensive to have someone mind your toddler than it is to put your kids through college.
This might explain the increasing number of mothers who have decided it’s more cost-effective to stay home and look after their kids than it is to go to work—a jump from 23% to 29% since 1985, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. But for families who don’t have that option—many single-parent households and younger parents who don’t have the savings or salary to help cover costs—the Child Care Aware study’s alarming statistics are especially problematic.
And while the issue affects millions of families nationally, it’s particularly problematic for those living in the hardest-hit areas, where the differential between costs and salary is the largest. Here are the six worst U.S. states when it comes to the costs associated with raising a child.
The Beaver State takes the proverbial cake. The annual cost for center-based infant care is $13,452, which greatly exceeds the $8,303 in annual tuition and fees for attending a public college. Not only that, average day care costs account for 61.6% of the average income for single-mother families, which bring in around $21,828 each year. In comparison, they account for 18.6% of the average income of married couples ($72,226).
Things aren’t much better in New York, where the cost of center-based infant care is $14,939, compared with $6,560 in public-college costs. The average income for single-parent families sits at $25,883; so putting your child in care while you head to work will suck up 57.7% of your salary. It’s 16.5% for New York couples, who bring in an average of $90,725.
The gap between the average child care costs and public college tuition isn’t as vast in Minnesota, but that’s only because the cost of attending school is so great. Day care is $13,876 annually and college is $10,388. Single moms making an average of $25,988 are forking over 53.4% of their income, whereas married couples spend 15.5% of their $89,608 take-home.
At $16,430, Massachusetts’ annual cost for center-based infant care is the most expensive of the six states, and college also packs a punch at $10,619. The percentage of single-parent income is second only to Oregon at 59.6% of $27,587. And couples can say goodbye to 15.1% of their $109,090 median income.
That fresh Colorado air is perfect for the hyperventilating of young parents, because the state’s average child care cost comes in at $12,736—a noticeable jump from the $8,416 it costs to send your kid to a public college. Single mothers with no other support networks will have to part with just under half (48.8%) of their $26,089 average salaries. Those financially lucky enough to be part of a couple spend 15% of their $85,137.
Last in the list of the six worst states to be a parent is sunny California. The annual cost for center-based infant care is $12,068—a few grand higher than the $9,368 annual tuition and fees at a public college. The average income for families is $27,237 for singles and $81,484 for married couples; so child care equates to 44.3% and 14.8%, respectively.