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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

August 27, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Child care costs in King County among highest in nation

Child care costs in King County are among the highest in the nation, but it’s not because child care providers are making out like bandits, according to a report issued today by Puget Sound Sage, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income families.

One example of how high costs are here: A single mother making $33,500 a year, the median income in King County, makes too much money for a subsidy. But she would have to spend 52 percent of her salary to cover the market rate for one infant at a child care center, according to the report, authored by Nicole Vallestero Keenan, policy director for Puget Sound Sage.

Graphic courtesy Puget Sound Sage

Graphic courtesy Puget Sound Sage

Another example: A two-parent household making the median salary of $116,000 would pay 15 percent of their income for one infant at a child care center, more than twice the national rate of 7 percent. The federal government draws the line for affordable care at 10 percent of family income.

But child care providers interviewed for the report say they are feeling the squeeze, too.

The median earnings for providers who care for children in their own home is $35,000 a year before taxes, expenses, and paying assistants, if they hire them at all, according to the report.

Many child care centers operate on slim margins after paying for insurance, rent, taxes, and supplies. Operators say they can’t afford to pay higher wages for workers, which leads to turnover, according to the report.

Why are costs so high here? Child Care Aware of America, a national nonprofit, says child care costs can be higher in cities and vary from state to state for many reasons, including different requirements for the number of children per teacher and a higher cost of living.

And Washington has high child care costs, ranking in the top 10 for least affordable states for infant care along with New York, California, Illinois and Massachusetts.

So what’s the answer?

Puget Sound Sage and the three other community organizations issuing the report  The Church Council of Greater Seattle, Para Los Niños and East African Community Services  recommend more government support at the state, county and city levels for child care.

Two measures on the November ballot address the costs and quality of early childhood education in Seattle. Puget Sound Sage supports both.

Comments | More in News | Topics: Child care, early ed, preschool

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