Next time your parents complain about having put you through college, you can let them know that you've got things worse: Most millennial parents in America now have to shoulder the burden of college costs not once, but twice in their children's lives, since, according to a new study, preschool is officially more expensive than college in 33 states.
If you did a double-take, welcome to the sad reality presented in the Care Index 2016, a joint report created by Care.com, a family care company, and New America, a public policy think tank based in Washington. The report, which analyzes the state of child care across the United States, paints a brutal picture for moms and dads out there. In 33 states, the average cost of infant care is $9,589 a year, versus $9,410 for college.
For a median-income household, that means preschool is munching away at a full fifth of a family's income in a year, according to Fortune. For a mom who earns minimum wage, preschool can eat up as much as 64 percent of her earnings. And when it comes to unemployed parents, the report warns, "a lack of child care creates a barrier to reducing poverty, family income, and a steady job."
Finally, the cost of full-time daycare is nearly equivalent to the average cost of rent in the United States, and it actually surpasses the median cost of rent in four states (sorry, Oregon, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Montana!).
With unforgiving numbers like that, it's no surprise that some women choose to stay home to watch their children — but having one parent stay home can actually put parents back an even larger amount. If the average woman takes five years off of work, she loses out on an average $467,000, rather than the $84,000 that would go to childcare during that time, according to Fortune.
So what needs to happen to change these dire straits? The New America Care Report suggests multiple actions to be taken: There needs to be more public and private investment in early care and learning, better training and pay involved in child care, and public policies that make quality care available to all families. Families in the United States, the report claims, needs improved cash assistance programs, universal paid family leave, and high quality, universal pre-school programs.
"If the child care system isn’t working for anyone, why has there been no movement for change?" the report asks, before answering: "In no small part because families, who foot about 60 percent of the cost of early care and learning, have no time. They’re too busy trying to find their way in our abysmal child care system to change it."
Luckily, the Care Index came out just in time for an American election — so now is the time to read up on candidates' family leave and child care policies, then vote to make your voice heard. Because paying the price of college before your child is even out of diapers is simply not OK.