Tuesday, May 28, 2024

How Much Does Daycare Cost in 2024?

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Going back to work after having a baby is not a cheap thing to do. The average cost of daycare in 2024 is higher than it’s ever been, marking an expensive new chapter in the decades-long childcare crisis in the United States.

“Parents are paying exorbitant fees,” says Cathy Creighton, who studies childcare costs as the director of Cornell University’s ILR Buffalo Co-Lab. For many families, daycare prices are higher than in-state tuition at a public four-year college.

If you’re getting ready to send your little one to daycare when parental leave is over, buckle up — here’s an idea of the costs you might be looking at.

The Average Cost of Daycare in 2024

According to a January 2024 report from childcare platform Care.com, which draws from the tuition info of daycares listed on the site, the average cost to have an infant in a licensed center-based daycare is $16,692 a year, or $321 a week. Home-based daycare for an infant costs, on average, $11,960, or $230 a week.

For a toddler, the average center-based daycare is $15,236 a year ($293 a week), and a home-based daycare averages $11,388 ($219 a week).

For parents of school-age kids, meanwhile, Care.com found the average cost to get an afternoon sitter for 15 hours a week is $15,184 per year, or $292 a week.

Of course, costs can vary widely depending on where you live. For instance, the average infant daycare cost in Washington DC is $21,788, while in Arkansas, it’s $6,708. Even within a state, there can be a huge difference between the fees in a major city and a rural or lower-income area.

Why Daycare Costs Are Rising

These numbers are all higher than they were last year, varying between .4 to 13 percent more. And Sean Lacey, general manager of childcare at Care.com, says that fees are only projected to grow further this year. That’s partially due to inflation, but mostly because of what’s been termed “the childcare cliff”: the end of the $24 billion in pandemic-era federal funding that supported 220,000 childcare providers.

The aid just expired in September 2023, so we’re only starting to see the effects, according to Creighton. “You know, there’s a cut, and it’ll take a little while for the body to bleed out,” she says. “It’s going to be quite grim.”

Without those government funds, daycare centers — which operate on very slim margins — have to either pass that cost along to parents or shut down. Progressive think tank The Century Foundation projects that 70,000 childcare centers will close, leaving more than three million children across the country without care.

Meanwhile, many of the daycare centers that continue to remain open are having trouble staying fully staffed, per an analysis from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. Classrooms are empty, and wait lists are growing. “There’s just more demand than there is supply,” Lacey says.

The Effects of High Daycare Costs

For all but the very wealthy and parents who qualify for a childcare subsidy, daycare is a major financial burden. The US Department of Health and Human Services considers childcare to be “affordable” when it costs no more than seven percent of a family’s income. Yet according to Care.com’s findings, parents are spending an average of 24 percent of their household income on childcare, and 23 percent of respondents anticipate spending more than $36,000 on it this year.

And it’s not just their salaries they’re using to pay for tuition. More than a third of parents surveyed by Care.com reported dipping into their savings to cover the cost of childcare — and a staggering 68 percent of those families said they only have six months or less until their savings are depleted.

At a certain point, parents are forced to take more drastic measures. Cornell’s recent research on childcare in New York, released in March 2024, found that 42 percent of respondents who had kids said someone in their household had stopped working to take care of their children, and 76 percent of those said that decision was made because they couldn’t find or afford childcare. “It was not because they felt like staying home with their kid,” Creighton says.

When that happens, it doesn’t just affect the family that’s struggling: the community misses out on the taxes and productivity of the parent who leaves the workforce. The Cornell analysis found that an investment of $1 billion in childcare could generate $1.8 billion in increased economic activity. “And that doesn’t even take into account the long-term impact on the child’s well-being by being in a place where they can get quality care and education,” Creighton says.

Parents of infants and toddlers aren’t the only ones ready to do something about all of this. Cornell’s research found that 79 percent of the New Yorkers surveyed — from all political backgrounds — support making childcare a free service like K–12 public schools. Multiple states, both red and blue, are making investments to continue the changes that came from that pandemic-era funding. President Biden’s just-released budget proposal for the 2025 fiscal year takes a cue from Canada’s playbook with a $10-a-day childcare program for families earning up to $200,000 (and no cost for the lowest-income households).

Of course, a proposed budget is just a wish list and — especially in an election year — a political statement. But if it ever comes to fruition, the average cost of daycare could look far different than it does for parents today.

Jennifer Heimlich is a writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience in fitness and wellness journalism. She previously worked as the senior fitness editor for Well+Good and the editor in chief of Dance Magazine. A UESCA-certified running coach, she’s written about running and fitness for publications like Shape, GQ, Runner’s World, and The Atlantic.

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