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Many Families Spend More on Child Care Than Rent, Study Says

The cost of child care increased up to eight times the rate of increase in family income from 2011 to 2012 and eclipsed every other household expense in the Northeast, Midwest, and South for families with two children attending a center-based program full time, says a report released Tuesday by the Arlington, Va.-based advocacy group Child Care Aware of America.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggest that families pay no more than 10 percent of their income for child care, but in 38 states and the District of Columbia child-care costs exceed that recommendation by "much, much more," the report states.

"Unlike all other areas of education investment, including higher education, families pay the majority of these costs for early education," wrote Lynette M. Fraga, the organization's executive director. "These expenses come at a time when young families can least afford them."

Family income rose 0.6 percent, and the cost of living increased 1.6 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the study, "Parents and the High Cost of Child Care 2013."

Meanwhile, child care for infants placed in a center full time rose 2.7 percent; the cost of those enrolled full time in home-based day care jumped 3.7 percent.

While the cost of child care generally decreases as a child ages, care for a 4-year-old in a center increased 2.6 percent, it spiked 4.8 percent for those placed in home-based care.

The costs can vary significantly among states. Mississippi, for example, had the least expensive center-based care for an infant at $4,863 annually, the study states. In contrast, placing a baby in such care in Massachusetts costs $16,430 a year. Home-based care in those states was less expensive, but still costly: It ranged from $3,930 in Mississippi to $12,176 in Massachusetts for one baby.

As children age, the cost of care generally decreases, the study states. Full-time, center-based care for 4-year-olds in Mississippi cost $4,312, and full-time, home-based care was $3,704. In Massachusetts, full-time care for a 4-year-old in a center cost $10,302, while home-based care was $10,026.

The study also states that 11 million children ages 5 and under spend an average of 36 hours in child care each week.

The report, which also looked at costs for school-age children, made five recommendations:

• There should be a national discussion about the high cost of child care in America, federal and state options, a look at what's been done in other industries, and possible solutions.

• Congress should require the National Academy of Sciences to study the true cost of child care.

• Congress should reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant to ensure that low-income children have access to affordable care.

• That reauthorization should include investing in Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should eliminate barriers preventing families from accessing quality care.

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