Lowest-Income Families Remain Burdened by High Child Care Costs

Apr 18, 2013

By Emily Firgens

The U.S. Census Bureau has released its most recent edition of Who's Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011. This periodic report uses Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) data from the 2008 panel to examine the characteristics of children and their families in different types of child care arrangements. The analysis found that 61.3 percent of children under age 5 were in a regular child care arrangement in the spring of 2011. Forty-two percent of these arrangements were relative care and 33 percent were non-relative care. 

Employed mothers living in poverty were more likely to rely on grandparents and fathers for care of their children than on organized child care facilities, the Census term encompassing center-based child care and preschool programs. Authors indicate that families in poverty are more likely to depend on relatives because of the high costs of child care. In 2011, the average cost of child care for families with an employed mother climbed to $143 a week; this amount has steadily increased from the inflation-adjusted $84 per week families spent in 1985. 

Poor working families with children under age 15 continue to pay the largest percentage of their monthly income on child care compared to those living at 200 percent or above of the federal poverty line. Who's Minding the Kids? reports that families living below poverty spent on average 30 percent of their income on child care per month. While this percentage has decreased significantly from 40 percent in 2010, it remains staggeringly high for the poor, especially in comparison with other income groups. Families living between 100 and 199 percent of poverty spent close to 18 percent of their monthly income on child care, and those living at or above 200 percent of poverty spent just under 7 percent.

The report's findings emphasize the need for more affordable child care - particularly for children and families who are living in the most vulnerable situations. Study after study has shown the benefits of early education to better outcomes in children. In addition, child care is a critical work support for parents. The increased funding for early childhood programs outlined in the President's FY 2014 budget signals that the Administration understands this need. The question remains whether Congress will take action to help low-income families better afford and access high-quality child care and early education options.

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