Report finds price of child care outpaced inflation in 2021; average price in Virginia is $11,492


For working mother Kaelyn Query, the monthly bill for child care for her son is more than $800 a month. “It’s a lot of money when you’re talking about one parent paying for something,” she said. “But it’s, again, a necessity. I don’t have the ability, with what I do, to keep him during the day.” Across the country, parents are feeling not only the rising costs of housing, feeding and clothing their families but also the inflation bite of higher day care bills.

A report from a national child care nonprofit found that child care costs across the country outpaced inflation during 2021. In Virginia, the report showed that the average single parent family would spend nearly half of its income on child care expenses.

The report from Child Care Aware of America highlights survey data showing that child care prices nationwide outpaced inflation for a third consecutive year. While 2021’s inflation rate was 4.7%, child care prices rose 5% when compared to 2020 prices.

“Parents continue to face the challenge of finding and affording high-quality child care,” said Lynette M. Fraga, CEO of Child Care Aware, in a statement. “Recent public investments in child care have been a lifeline and helped keep programs open. But robust, long-term public support is needed to make child care affordable for families and ensure more children have access to high-quality early learning experiences to prepare them for success in school and beyond.”

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The national average price of child care was around $10,600 annually, which takes up about 10% of the average married couple’s annual income and 35% of the average single parent’s income. In most states, the price of care for two children in a center-based program exceeded annual housing payments by 28%, to over 100%.

Infant care at center-based programs exceeded annual in-state tuition at a public university in 34 states. Child care for two children at a center-based program was the highest household expense in three of the four regions studied. In the west region, housing was only slightly more expensive at $24,548 versus $23,782 for child care.

The overall number of licensed child care centers open nationally has remained somewhat flat over the past three years. It rose to 94,394 in 2021 but is still below the 95,920 centers that were open in 2019. The number of family child care homes decreased more sharply. There were 107,783 homes in 2019 and 97,393 in 2021, based on data from 40 states.

Drilling down more specifically into Virginia, the report says child care costs remain too high for many families. The average annual price of family care for an infant is $11,492 and $11,024 for a toddler. Center-based costs are more expensive at $15,288 for an infant and $14,144 for a toddler.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends families spend less than 7% of their yearly income on child care expenses to be considered affordable. Married couple families are spending an average of 13% of their income, and single-parent families are spending an average of 45% their yearly income. Single parents’ average salaries are far lower than married families at $34,138, versus $119,445, per the report.

Child care costs in Virginia are topping all other household expenses, including college tuition. Center-based costs in a two-child family — comprised of an infant and a 4-year-old — would be about $27,000 per year. Housing averages $21,864 annually, while college tuition is about $14,121.

The study’s numbers were tabulated by surveying hundreds of referral agencies in the nonprofit’s network and other stakeholders like state agencies. They were surveyed on such topics as child care supply and capacity, quality rating and improvements systems, services and annual child care prices based on data as of December 2021.

Child Care Aware of America works with a network of more than 400 child care resources and referral agencies nationwide. It leads projects to increase quality and availability of child care, conducts research and advocates for child care policies.

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