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Child Care Costs Eat Up More Of Cook County Parents’ Income

CHICAGO — Parents in Cook County with young children are spending about 20 percent of their income on child care, according to a new report that calls prices “untenable for families,” even for those who live in areas where rates are lower.

That’s $16,506 a year in 2022 dollars, according to the National Database of Childcare Prices, which offers the most comprehensive look yet at how child care costs vary across 2,360 counties in 47 states. The report was released earlier this week by the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor.

The report uses the latest data on child care costs from 2018, adjusted for inflation to 2022 dollars. It shows that nationally, child care prices ranged from $4,810 ($5,357 in 2022 dollars) for school-age home-based care in small counties to $15,417 ($17,171 in 2022 dollars) for infant center-based care in very large counties. The cost of child care represents between 8-19.3 percent of median family income per child, according to the report.

So:

  • Child care prices were consistently higher for infant care, with the median price for one child in center-based infant care ranging from $7,461 ($8,310 in 2022 dollars) in small counties to $15,417 ($17,171 in 2022 dollars) in very large counties.
  • Among home-based providers, infant care ranged from $5,824 ($6,486 in 2022 dollars) in small counties to $9,892 ($11,018 in 2022 dollars) in very large counties.
  • Among preschool-aged children, center-based prices per child ranged from $6,239 ($6,949 in 2022 dollars) in small counties to $11,050 ($12,307 in 2022 dollars) in very large counties.
  • Home-based child care prices ranged from $5,541 ($6,171 in 2022 dollars) in small counties to $9,019 ($10,045 in 2022 dollars) in very large counties.

The burden is even higher for families with multiple children in before- and after-school care or center-based child care. The analysis showed 29 percent of families with children under 6 have two or more in that age group.

High child care costs are keeping some families — especially women — out of the labor market, the Women’s Bureau report noted.

In Cook County, about 75 percent of women are part of the county’s labor market and have median earnings of $32,115 a year. Annual median family income is $76,327 a year. So, 11.4 percent of families live below the poverty line.

The analysis found that even a 10 percent increase in child care costs causes a 1 percentage point decrease in moms in the workforce. A 50 percent increase dropped the number of mothers employed by 2 percentage points, and in counties where child care costs more than doubled, maternal employment dropped 4 percentage points.

On average, counties with higher wages for women did have a higher number of working moms, the report said, but the higher pay didn’t fully compensate for a reduction in maternal employment associated with higher child care costs.

The Women’s Bureau report said the current funding system — relying primarily on overburdened families and underpaid child care workers, who earn a median of $13.22 an hour and are twice as likely as workers in other sectors to live below the poverty line — contributes to substantial employee turnover that leads to an inadequate supply of affordable child care.

The report said asking providers who spend between 60 percent and 80 percent of their operating budgets on wages is unfeasible. Yet families can’t pay more, either, “meaning the childcare sector needs substantial government investment to function adequately and eventually prosper,” the report said.

Compared with other high-wage countries, the US government spends little on early child care and education, ranking 35th among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, nations for spending on early care and education of children ages 0-5 — less than $500 per child.

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