“If we don’t stand up for children, we don’t stand for much.” — Marian Wright Edelman
Many of us are complaining about the rising costs of gasoline, rent, used cars and milk; and the cost for early childhood education is exploding as well. While it is expensive everywhere in the U.S., Colorado ranks third as having the least affordable center-based infant care and fourth for the least affordable center-based toddler care in all 50 states, according to the Child Care Aware of America’s 2019 report.
How expensive is this care? Denver parents, on average, pay $1,730 per month for infant care and $1,597 per month for toddlers. Twenty-eight percent of Colorado’s children live in single-parent homes, and single parents pay a much larger percentage of their income. “In 2018, a single parent with an infant in Colorado spent almost 50% of their income on a childcare center, and a single parent with two children spent over 86% of their income” (Child Care Aware of America).
These figures are especially relevant when you consider that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that childcare is considered affordable if it costs families no more than 7% of their income. The Colorado Health Institute reports that the average childcare cost is 28% for Colorado families, four times the affordable cost. The high cost is simply impossible for some: 38% of the children in Colorado cannot access early childhood education because their families cannot afford the high prices (The Common Sense Institute).
Early childhood education is sometimes more expensive than the tuition at a four-year college. A 2022 report on the cost of four-year colleges, stated that the average cost of in-state tuition at a Colorado college was $17,000 while Colorado parents’ annual cost for childcare for an infant and 4-year-old was $27,000 (the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments). This is $10,000 more than college tuition and thirty percent of the Colorado median annual income.
Not only is it expensive for the parents, but it is also difficult for the providers who are feeling a financial squeeze of their own. The providers must pay for classroom materials, preparation time, staff salaries, and licensing fees (if they are a licensed facility). A 2019 study by the United States Treasury reported that childcare providers in Colorado earn an average of $27,000 to $38,000 per year. While this is slightly higher than the national average of $24,300, it is well below the Colorado median income of $72,000.
One of the problems is that parents are asked to pay large sums of money for early childhood education when they can least afford it. Most parents of young children have little work experience and are making far less than they would in 10 years or so. Many also have student loan debts and mortgages to pay at the same time.
The main problem is the refusal of federal, state and local governments to appropriately fund these programs. The United States ranks 30th of 33 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation in public spending on families and children. This chart shows expenditures for toddlers, per child:
Norway – $29,776
Iceland – $24,427
Spain – $9,084
Hungary – $7022
US – $500
According to the New York Times, “For every $1 the federal government spends on children it spends $6 for older adults.” Young children do not wield power as a voting bloc. We must start lobbying our legislators on their behalf.
Some legislators tried to shrink this gap with increased funding in the recent Inflation Reduction Act; however, during the bi-partisan negotiations, provisions for universal pre-K and subsidies for early childhood education were eliminated. According to CNN, this is the ninth time in just 2½ years that proposed legislation to help families and women have been removed. We cannot continue to save money in the short term when it leads to great suffering in the long term. We cannot tolerate our elected officials’ turning their backs on the most vulnerable members of our society.
“Investing in children is not a national luxury or a national choice. It’s a national necessity.” – Marian Wright Edelman.
Cheryl Spraetz is a former high school English teacher, occasional childcare provider for her grandchildren and a passionate supporter of early childhood education. Marty Fisher is a retired preschool teacher and a current caregiving grandparent. Sarah Sharp is a former nurse, health planner and attorney.