RELEASE: New Interactive Reveals the True Cost of Quality Early Childhood Education in Each U.S. State

Washington, D.C. — Many new parents find themselves shocked by the high price of child care; they wonder why it costs so much, especially when they learn that child care workers earn very low wages. Today, the Center for American Progress launched a new interactive tool that shows parents exactly where their child care payment goes. Parents can enter their state and child’s age and then modify seven different elements of quality to see both the monthly cost of a high-quality program and a breakdown of the primary expenses. For the first time, parents and policymakers can estimate the true cost of high-quality center-based child care in each state and understand why child care can cost so much.

Using this tool, parents and policymakers will learn that personnel expenses are the main driver of cost in a child care center, accounting for between 60 percent and 80 percent of program expenses. Current tuition rates are actually artificially low at the expense of teacher compensation; the average child care worker earns only 10 dollars per hour, proving that the current child care industry is built on the backs of early childhood teachers.

The data in the interactive and report make it clear that the U.S. child care system is broken and that high-quality early childhood programs remain out of reach for too many low- and middle-income families while child care workers earn poverty wages. Indeed, the U.S. average for the true cost of high-quality child care —including adequate compensation for teachers in the workforce—is over $27,000 per year for an infant. For a toddler, the annual cost is nearly $21,000; for a preschooler, the cost is just under $16,000 per year.

“Understandably, many families who are already struggling to afford child care find themselves asking whether high quality is worth the high cost,” said Simon Workman, associate director of Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress. “It is critical that we invest in early childhood teachers because increased compensation is essential to recruit and retain teachers with the required skills and experience. Every interaction between a child and their caregiver is an opportunity for learning. Even for infants and toddlers, it is important that their teachers are trained in child development and can maximize learning opportunities that arise throughout daily routines.”

However, most families cannot afford to pay more, and child care subsidies do not sufficiently cover the true cost of high quality. The data in the interactive and report show that only upper-income families can afford high-quality early childhood programs, while children from lower-income households are left behind, deepening inequality and setting the stage for the achievement gap, which will persist throughout their lifetimes. To fully address the issues of affordability, accessibility, and quality, a significant new public investment is needed. By helping parents and policymakers understand the true cost of high-quality child care, CAP hopes to build support for this much-needed public investment in early childhood education.

“The current child care system is untenable for families and providers alike. Parents already struggle to afford child care and half of all child care workers rely on public assistance programs because their wages are too low to cover their basic needs,” said Katie Hamm, vice president of Early Childhood Policy at the Center. “This tool shows precisely why we need to prioritize funding for child care. Congress took a first step by doubling existing federal funding for child care in a bipartisan budget agreement and now must pass The Child Care for Working Families Act to make affordable, high-quality child care a reality for all families.”

View the interactive: “Where Does Your Child Care Dollar Go?

Read the report: “Where Does Your Child Care Dollar Go?” by Simon Workman

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Rafael J. Medina at rjmedina@americanprogress.org or 202.748.5313.