A Look at the Cost of Child Care in NC
Find out how legislators and organizations are trying to help
Talk to any new parent about child care and you’re sure to get a heated response. The cost of and access to quality child care, as well as its impact on parents’ jobs, can all add up to serious stress. Parents play the lead role in their child’s healthy development, but many rely on child care from their baby’s earliest days to make ends meet.
According to research from national nonprofit ReadyNation, infant care in a North Carolina child care center costs an average of $9,254 per year or $771 per month. (ReadyNation is a division of the Council for a Strong America, which is a national, bipartisan nonprofit that unites five organizations of law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business executives, pastors, and prominent coaches and athletes.)
For many low-income families, this is an impossible amount to pay. The average cost of infant and toddler care represents 61% of a North Carolina minimum wage worker’s annual income, according to ReadyNation. Statewide, more than 20,000 children under the age of 6 are on the waitlist for child care assistance through North Carolina’s Child Care Subsidy program, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Child Development and Early Education. Of these children on the waitlist, more than half are infants and toddlers. According to ZERO TO THREE State Baby Facts for North Carolina, 62% of North Carolina mothers of infants work outside the home, so quality child care becomes a necessity for those who can’t afford it.
The Child Care Subsidy program helps parents pay for child care expenses so they can work or attend school while also providing high-quality early education for their children during a critical time in their development. According to the North Carolina Early Education Coalition, researchers agree that access to early learning better prepares children for success in school, as well as helps them become more likely to read on grade level by third grade and have the foundation they need to be productive members of the state’s future workforce.
According to ReadyNation, 86% of primary caregivers of infants and toddlers have said problems with child care hurt their efforts or time commitment at work. When parents don’t have the child care they need, there is a risk of decreased work productivity, which can result in costs to parents, their employers and, ultimately, taxpayers. The lack of reliable child care for working parents of young children up to age 3 could amount to $1.7 billion in annual costs for North Carolina, according to ReadyNation.
“Without a larger investment to help working families access child care, more children in our state will miss out on vital early learning experiences and more families will be forced to choose between quality care for their babies and their own economic security,” says Michele Rivest, policy director of the North Carolina Early Education Coalition.
North Carolina’s legislative leaders have made progress over the past few years in increasing the supply and quality of care for infants and toddlers through Smart Start (an organization that helps establish a comprehensive and accountable system of care and education for North Carolina children), as well as providing higher reimbursement rates and scholarship programs for teachers.
North Carolina Early Education Coalition and its Think Babies NC initiative are also working with legislators to expand the availability of child care assistance for working families so they can access care for their young children, and so the parents of those children can continue to work. Learn more at ncearlyeducationcoalition.org/think‑babies.html.
Elaine Zukerman is the Infant/Toddler Education and Advocacy Coordinator at the NC Early Education Coalition. She and her husband live in Durham and are expecting their first child in July.