Parents just can't buy a break

Save for college? How when child care costs just as much?

A study shows that Illinois is one of the 10 least-affordable states for the cost of child care. (Shutterstock)

A study shows that Illinois is one of the 10 least-affordable states for the cost of child care. (Shutterstock)

By Ted Cox

How is any family supposed to save for kids going to college when the cost of child care is just as much?

That's a question posed by a study from Child Care Aware of America, an advocacy group. According to "Parents and the High Cost of Child Care," a nationwide study of data from last year, the average annual cost of placing an infant in a child-care center in Illinois is $13,413, compared to average tuition at a state four-year university of $13,621.

According to the study, Illinois is one of 23 states — almost half the nation — where the average cost of child care in a center for an infant and a 4-year-old is greater than 12 percent of the median income, or an eighth of the median salary.

The latest data from this year show no respite. Child care for an infant costs $13,474 in a center in Illinois, $8,442 on average in the home.

The $13,000 figure is the average for an infant placed in a child-care center. Child care in the home saves some money, with an average of $8,366. But add a child to the mix, and care in a center for an infant and a 4-year-old averages $23,426 in Illinois, with even home care averaging $16,147.

That's an average of 15 percent of annual income for the average family with an infant, but more than a quarter of family income — 25.6 percent — for families with two preschool children. And the data for single-parent families and those at the poverty line are staggering.

According to the study, Illinois families at the poverty line would need to spend almost all their income — 96.4 percent — to place a child in a center, two-thirds — 66.4 percent — just for home care. Infant care in a center for the average single parent costs more than half the average income, 54.4 percent, and more than a third in-home, 34 percent. Add another child for a single parent, and care in a center again is almost the entire annual income, 95.1 percent, and in-home it's still almost two-thirds of income, 65.5 percent.

Illinois ranked as one of the 10 least-affordable states for child care in a center.

The study found that, across the Midwest, child care for two kids in a center was the single largest expenditure for families, outpacing housing, transportation, food, health care, and, yes, a year's college tuition.

And the latest data show that it's no great relief when kids go to school. According to statistics for this year, before- and after-school care averages more than $6,000 a year statewide in a center, more than $5,000 at home, and full-time care over the summer costs more than $9,000 in a center, more than $7,000 at home.

The study suggests that states should invest in child care, stating: "Given the importance of child care to our nation’s economic strength, any infrastructure investment should include an investment in child care." It also recommends that states support working families and limit their cost burden, while streamlining eligibility standards and enrollment procedures for public programs — something that's been a problem for the Child Care Assistance Program under Gov. Rauner.

Money magazine printed a story last week showing that child care costs almost as much as the average rent nationwide. According to that study, child care costs on average $1,385 a month, while the median rent is $1,500, according to HotPads, a unit of the online Zillow realty database.

The study found that rent figures to stay costlier than child care, as the average U.S. rent rose 2.3 percent over the last year — 3 percent for larger two- and three-bedroom family apartments — compared with a 1.3 increase in the cost of child care. But than can hardly be called good news for working families.