Child care costs exceed college tuition in NC, most communities across the country, report finds

RALEIGH (October 6, 2015) — As families increasingly rely on both parents working to make ends meet, child care is ever more important for promoting healthy children. Yet costs for child care services are skyrocketing, placing this important service out of reach for many families.

In a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, High Quality Child Care Is Out of Reach for Working Families, authors Elise Gould and Tanyell Cooke break down the high cost of child care throughout the country and identify the difficulties families have in meeting these costs. Child care costs for families with two children exceed rent in 500 out of 618 communities across the nation, the report finds. These costs are also highly variable, ranging from about half as much as rent in San Francisco to nearly three times the cost of rent in Binghamton, New York.

Shockingly, annual child care costs for a 4-year-old exceed the average cost of in-state tuition at public 4-year institutions in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Infant care costs in particular exceed the average in-state tuition for public colleges in in 33 states and the District of Columbia. In North Carolina, a year of child care for a four-year-old costs 16 percent more than a year of tuition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The fact that child care is such a large part of families’ budgets underscores the need for a government solution,” said Gould. “It will take bold policy action to make high quality, dependable child care accessible to every family that needs it.”

The report describes how child care fits into EPI’s family budgets, which measure the income families need in order to attain a modest yet adequate standard of living in 618 communities, showing that for families with two children (a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old), child care costs exceed rent in 500 out of 618 family budget areas.

While EPI’s family budgets estimate costs for families with 4-year-old and 8-year-old children, the report also looks at the high cost of infant care and models new budgets for families with infants in 10 locations. In these areas, child care costs for families with an infant and a 4-year-old are between approximately 20 and 31 percent of median family income.

“The high and rising cost of college tuition is well known,” said Cooke. “But surprisingly, child care is an equally if not more onerous expense. In more than half the states, child care is a bigger expense than even in-state tuition at a 4-year public college.”

This should come as no surprise to North Carolina’s families, who have seen deep cuts to state funding for child care and other early childhood programs. As reported by the Budget & Tax Center last week, the state’s investment in early childhood programs has remained stagnant despite the economic recovery. Even as the General Assembly increased the reimbursement rate for providers in certain counties, policymakers failed to fully address the waiting list for child care subsidies. By failing to replace slots in quality pre-Kindergarten programs that have been lost since the Great Recession, North Carolina is not serving all eligible 4-year-olds nor realizing the benefit to the state of quality early childhood programming for children’s lifetime earnings.

“North Carolina is holding back its economic future by not ensuring that access to high quality child care is affordable to every child who needs it,” said Alexandra Sirota, director of the Budget & Tax Center.

The rising cost of child care is especially challenging for low-wage and minimum wage workers, the report finds. To meet the demands of infant care costs for a year, a minimum-wage worker would have to devote his or her entire earnings from working full time from January until September. In fact, child care costs exceed 30 percent of a minimum wage worker’s earnings in every state. In a 2014 study by the Child Care Services Association of North Carolina, many child care workers themselves were found to earn low wages making it difficult for them to make ends meet and provide quality care options for their own children.

“I’ve been working in child care for over 10 years and I still don’t make enough to care for my own children,” said child care worker Tolanda Barnette. “Child care workers, we make the world go round, and we are worth more than $15 but we deserve at least that for raising the future.”

The report can be found here:

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Alexandra Sirota,, 919.861.1468; Allan Freyer,, 919.856.2151; Jeff Shaw, director of communications,, 503.551.3615 (cell).