New report details high cost of child care for Idaho families

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For families across the United States, the cost of child care frequently exceeds the cost of housing, college tuition, transportation or food, according to a new report by Child Care Aware of America.

The 12th annual “The U.S. and the High Cost of Child Care” report found that the average annual cost of child care for an Idaho infant can range from $6,264 for home-based care to nearly $7,300 for center-based care. And for two children – an infant and a 4-year-old, as an example – those costs can reach about $13,600 annually. As a point of comparison, the average year’s tuition at a public university is $7,250 and an average annual mortgage payment is $14,148.

The average cost of center-based infant care is more than 27 percent of median income for single parents in every state, an increase of three percentage points from 2016, according to the report. The average single parent in Idaho must spend nearly a third of their income to pay for infant care at a center. Married parents of two children living at the poverty line pay 55 percent of their household income for center-based care in Idaho.

The report also found that child care workers struggle to afford care for their own children – in nearly every state, it takes at least half their salary to cover the child care cost for two children. In Idaho, the average annual child care worker income is $19,550, and 69.5 percent of that would be needed to cover child care for two kids.

In all regions of the country last year, the cost of center-based child care for an infant exceeded the costs of food and transportation combined, according to the report.

Idaho remains one of only a handful of states that does not invest in preschool programs, leaving working parents with no choice but to cover the high costs of child care.

“Working families across Idaho understand that high-quality child care is currently neither accessible nor affordable,” said Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children. “Too many are forced to choose between putting food on the table and having a safe, nurturing place for their child to learn and grow. That needs to change.”

Earlier this month, Idaho AEYC launched Preschool the Idaho Way, a new project that aims to develop high-quality, affordable preschool opportunities by helping form local early learning collaboratives across the state.