College may seem like a relative bargain to some families after they see a new study by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) that says early child care can cost more.
The study found that in 36 states and the District of Columbia, one year of infant day care in a center is more expensive than a year of public college.
Overall, the NACCRRA study showed that Mississippi has the cheapest average annual rates for infant day care in a center at $4,650 per year. The most expensive is Washington, DC, where parents shell out $18,200 a year on average.
Parents are feeling the pinch. Gary Walker has had two sons in a day care center and laments the high cost.
“In our budget, it's the second highest line item if you will, second only to our mortgage,” he said. “An astounding amount of money goes out to just caring for our children every month.”
Day care centers too are trying to stay afloat in a difficult economy. Those who run the facilities say their food and labor costs are going up, and they are trying to keep their clients onboard despite rate increases.
“When we have a family where a parent loses a job, or where they have to either pull their children out or cut back on care, the first thing that we try to do is somehow make something work and affordable for them,” said Kae Bieber, director of Common Ground Child Care in Reston, Va.
Study organizers say the cost of child care has gone up 1.9 percent over the past year, and families are having to get creative.
“We're seeing more cases where families are trying to split the childcare by going to one parent working during the day and one working nights,” said Linda Smith with NACCRRA.
Smith says other trends include parents enlisting the help of grandparents and other relatives to defray childcare costs, neighbors or friends pooling their resources in less formal, less expensive child care options and parents having to dip into their savings.