Where is child care most expensive? New labor department data breaks down costs by county

LaFrancesca Mitchell was shocked when she first discovered how much day care would cost her in Las Vegas.

Everywhere she looked charged about $750 a month, and that was six years ago when her son was still an infant. Prices have only gone up since then; a new database from the Labor Department estimates the median price for infant child care at a center in Clark County, Nevada, is about $1,200 per month, worth about 19% of the median family's income.

Since day care was out of the question, Mitchell quit her job in music production and became a stay-at-home mom while her son’s father worked full time.

“For the first three, four years of his life, I couldn't afford to go back and be a full-time worker. And it hurt my life, to a certain degree, but we survived,” she told USA TODAY.  “Child care is just unacceptably unaffordable.”

LaFrancesca Mitchell and her 6-year-old son, Atreyu Tinkle.
LaFrancesca Mitchell and her 6-year-old son, Atreyu Tinkle.

The Labor Department on Tuesday launched a new way to examine child care costs with the National Database of Childcare Prices, which breaks down prices in 2,360 counties.

The data shows child care costs range from 8% to 19% of a median family’s income per child. That’s anywhere from $5,357 to $17,171 per year when adjusted for inflation.

Certain counties eclipse the average: New York families in the Bronx sending an infant to a child care center, for instance, can expect to spend 47% of the median family income on care for just one child.

The exorbitant costs can be especially harmful to mothers, who are often forced to leave the workforce if child care is unaffordable.

“A vast majority of the country is just showing child care is too expensive," said Wendy Chun-Hoon, director of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau, which sponsored the database. "(Greater investments in child care infrastructure) could support higher maternal employment, more full-time work hours, reduce poverty, more equality in terms of socio-economic disparities."

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Where is child care the most expensive?

The new Labor Department database breaks down child care prices by location, age (infant, toddler, preschool and school-age) and child care provider type ("centers," which are child care providers in non-residential settings, versus "homes," which are providers in residential settings).

For families looking to send their infant to a child care center, counties with the largest share of child care price per median family income include:

  • Kings County, New York: 32%.

  • Suffolk County, Massachusetts: 28%.

  • Queens County, New York: 28%.

  • Brooks County, Texas: 27%.

  • Fresno County, California: 26%.

When looking at median annual prices, some of the highest costs for infant center-based care when adjusted for inflation can be found in:

  • Arlington County, Virginia: $27,220.

  • San Francisco County, California: $26,776.

  • Middlesex County, Massachusetts: $26,409.

  • Norfolk County, Massachusetts: $26,409.

  • San Mateo County, California: $24,478.

Chun-Hoon said the database is the first federal source of child care prices documented at the U.S. county level. Some of the most expensive areas for child care are in the Northeast and West, but higher child care costs can be found in cities metropolitans across the country.

“This is not episodic, this is not clustered in any one part of the country. This is really widespread,” Chun-Hoon said. “For most of these counties, child care prices are still really high relative to family income.”

Why is child care so expensive?

While child care prices have been a longstanding problem for families across the country, Chun-Hoon said the pandemic hiked prices even higher.

Since early 2020, various child care providers have permanently shut their doors and thousands of workers have left the field. Data from the latest Labor Department jobs report in December shows the child care sector is 7.5% below its pre-pandemic employment levels.

“As a result, fewer slots means more demand,” Chun-Hoon said.

She added that COVID-19 safety protocols – like increased cleaning and sanitation – led to increased costs for providers that were often passed along to customers.

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What this means for parents

Chun-Hoon said higher child care prices can be “especially detrimental” to maternal employment, with employment rates for mothers dropping in areas that have more expensive child care.

They’re “having to leave employment because it's just simply too expensive," she said. "Greater investment in child care infrastructure could both lower prices for families while increasing wages for the really, frankly, low-paid workforce that's providing this care. And the vast majority of them are women and, disproportionately, women of color."

You can follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter @bailey_schulz and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter here for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Day care rates near me: See how expensive child care is in your county