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Child care is costly and one of the biggest expenses families face, but it is an essential element of infrastructure. Most families with working parents need someone to take care of their children while they’re at work.

Did you know that in Pennsylvania, the annual cost of infant care is just $2,692 less than in-state tuition for a four-year public college? Or that infant care costs 8.1% more than the average rent?

With an annual cost of $11,842 for infant care, Pennsylvania ranks 21st in the nation for highest cost of child care, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Massachusetts is the most expensive, with an annual cost of $20,913 for infant care, while Mississippi is the cheapest at $5,436.

Child care for a four-year-old in Pennsylvania costs $9,773 annually. 

Cost & Affordability

For child care to be considered “affordable” it should take up no more than 7% of a family’s income, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Under those guidelines, that means infant care is only affordable for 10.9% of Pennsylvania families. 

For a minimum wage worker, making approximately $15,080 per year, infant care would take up 78.5% of their income. They would have to work full time for 41 weeks (January to October) just to pay for care for one infant.

Families with more than one child face steeper costs when it comes to child care. 

In Pennsylvania, child care for two children – an infant and a four-year-old – would cost a typical family $21,614 annually – 49.7% more than the average cost of rent in the commonwealth. 

A typical family, earning a median income of $67,828 would have to spend 31.9% of its income in order to pay for child care for an infant and a four-year-old in Pennsylvania.

Yet, child care workers still struggle to get by.

A median child care worker making $21,270 in Pennsylvania would have to spend 55.7% of their earnings to put their own child in infant care.

Potential Solutions

In February, as part of his state budget proposal, Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans for devoting some of Pennsylvania’s unused pandemic relief money to families dealing with the lingering economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan includes issuing checks of up to $2,000 to qualifying families to help with expenses such as child care. 

Another potential solution is the Build Back Better plan proposed by President Joe Biden. The bill would provide access to care for children up to the age of 5 for families earning less than 2.5 times the state median income. These families would pay no more than 7% of their income on quality child care.

Overall, capping a families’ child care expenses at 7% of their income would save a typical Pennsylvania family with an infant almost $7,000 on child care costs, according to EPI. This would free up 12.1% of their annual income to spend on other basic necessities and thus expand the commonwealth’s economy by 0.8%, which means $6.1 billion in new economic activity.