As we begin to recover from the pandemic, finding quality affordable child care is more complicated than ever for parents. It’s not only less affordable for families than it was a year ago, but it has also become increasingly less accessible, due to the catastrophic effects the pandemic has had on the child care industry as a whole. Nonetheless, child care remains an essential and vital part of our country’s overall recovery.
“The profound impact that access to child care has on families has never been clearer than throughout the pandemic,” says Carrie Cronkey, chief marketing officer of Care.com. “As we begin to fully re-engage with school and work, child care remains key both in terms of availability and cost. Our annual Cost of Care Survey sheds light on what’s changed, such as the cost gap between day care and in-home care, and what’s remained the same: the fact that child care remains one of the largest expenses for families and costs are rising.”
Key findings from the Care.com 2021 Cost of Care Survey
New data from the eighth annual Care.com 2021 Cost of Care Survey reveals:
- The cost of child care is higher for families in 2021. 85% of parents, compared to only 72% in 2020, report they are spending 10% or more of their household income on child care.
- Hiring a nanny became a more feasible option for many families in 2021. There’s only a $14 a week difference now between the cost of having two children in day care versus hiring a nanny.
- Quality child care is only harder to come by as we begin to recover from the pandemic. More than half of American families already lived in a child care desert, and now 46% of families report that finding child care is more difficult now, compared to pre-pandemic.
- Parents are struggling to pay for child care so they can get back to work. 62% of families say they have more concern about the cost of child care now. Plus, 94% of parents have used at least one major cost-saving strategy to save money on child care in the past year, including reducing hours at work (42%), changing jobs (26%), or leaving the workforce completely (26%).
How much does child care cost?
The cost of child care is on the rise
Based on the 2021 Cost of Care Survey, child care is not in the affordable range for most families. Of parents surveyed, 85% say they are spending 10% or more of their household income on child care. And according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), child care is considered affordable when it costs families no more than 7% of their household income.
The survey also finds that more than half of families (57%) spent over $10,000 on child care in 2020, and 59% plan to spend more than $10,000 in 2021, which is more than the average annual cost of in-state college tuition ($9,580) per EducationData.org.
While the weekly rate of a nanny for one child on Care.com increased 8%, day care rates increased 87%, according to Center for American Progress in-center data. Overall, the average child care cost for one child in 2020 was $612/week for a nanny (up from $565/week in 2019), $340/week for a child care or day care center (up from $182/week) and $300/week for a family care center (up from $177/week).
Below are the 2020 national averages of weekly child care costs for each type of care, compared to costs in 2019.
National Average Weekly Rates
|One Child||One Child||Two Children||Two Children|
|Child care center (toddler)*||$340||$182||$640**||$346**|
|Family care center*||$300||$177||$570**||$336**|
* Rates are based on the national data from “The Cost of Child Care During the Coronavirus Pandemic” calculator by Center for American Progress.
** Rates for two children calculated by adding the weekly rate for one child and the weekly rate for the second child with a national average sibling discount of 10%.
The pandemic played a role in the year’s higher price tag
According to survey data, 72% report that child care is more expensive now, due to the pandemic, while just 6% say that child care is now less expensive. Those citing an increase in costs say the top reason costs are up is due to safety precautions at child care centers.
The price gap between hiring a nanny and center-based child care is closing
For families who may have considered hiring a nanny in the past but were dissuaded by the higher cost, things shifted in their favor over the past year.
The cost gap between hiring a nanny for two children versus having two children enrolled in a day care center fell sharply in the past year. There’s only a $14 a week difference now, down from a $239 a week difference in 2019, between the cost of having two kids in day care versus hiring a nanny for them.
How accessible is quality child care?
“Care deserts” are more prevalent as a result of the pandemic
Before the pandemic, more than half of American families lived in a child care desert, in which the demand for child care outweighs the supply of child care centers and providers. And things have only gotten worse.
According to our survey:
- 46% of families say that finding available child care providers is more difficult now, compared to pre-pandemic.
- Of the 51% who used either a child care or day care center before the pandemic:
- 61% report that their provider is not yet fully open and operating.
- 14% say their provider has reopened, but not fully.
Child care providers are harder to come by in some areas
- 26% of residents in small town or rural areas are especially likely to say finding a provider is very difficult, compared to 10% who live in the suburbs,15% who live in a small city and 11% who live in major cities.
- 20% of those located in the Western United States are most likely to have their child care provider permanently closed or unavailable post-pandemic.
Lower income families face more child care accessibility issues
Of those who have an annual household income of under $50K:
- 19% say they find it difficult to find child care providers where they live.
- 17% are more likely to have their child care provider closed permanently or unavailable post-pandemic.
What’s the impact of rising child care costs on parents?
Worry levels are increasing at nearly the same rate as costs
Compared to pre-pandemic, 62% of families express more concern about the cost of child care now while only 10% are less concerned. Of those who are more concerned about the cost of child care, 43% say this stems from child care centers having increased costs due to safety protocols, and 32% are concerned because they have had to shift to a different arrangement.
Families have had to make sacrifices in order to afford child care
- 94% of parents have used at least one major cost-saving strategy in the past year:
- 42% of parents have reduced hours at work.
- 26% have changed jobs.
- 26% have left the workforce entirely.
- 89% of parents are considering at least one major cost-saving strategy in the upcoming year:
- 38% are considering reducing hours at work.
- 27% are considering changing jobs.
- 24% are considering leaving the workforce entirely.
How can you reduce the cost of care?
As the cost of child care continues to rise, it’s a good time to make sure you are doing what you can to mitigate costs.
Do your research
Once you know how much you can afford, pinpoint the most feasible child care option by researching current rates in your area. Care.com has free interactive tools for calculating full-time child care, babysitter rates and nanny taxes.
Talk to your employer
Due to the pandemic, many companies are now prioritizing family care benefits that provide affordable and accessible child care and senior care services to their employees. From access to subsidized digital care memberships to backup child and adult care, find out if your employer offers family care benefits. And if they don’t, ask for them.
Take advantage of tax breaks and credits
Take advantage of tax breaks and credits made available to you by paying your caregiver on the books. The American Rescue Plan makes in-home care more affordable for families who pay their nannies legally by expanding the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under 6 years old and to $3,000 for children 6 and over.
Interactive: Use our Tax Calculator to find out how much you can save on child care options near you.
Based on survey responses, the American Rescue Plan provision to increase child care tax credits is very popular with parents:
- 79% support the increase in the child tax credit.
- 56% say that the plan should go further in providing support for child care expenses.
- 25% say that the plan provides the right amount of support.
Look into child care subsidies and programs
Your family may qualify for available money-saving programs. Look into child care subsidies and programs to see if you’re eligible to take advantage and lower your costs.
2021 Cost of Care Survey methodology
This scientific sample of 3,000 US adults (18 years or older) who are all parents paying for professional child care was surveyed between May 4 and May 6, 2021. The margin of error is ±1.8%. No additional weighting was done to the initial sample, and no post-stratification of results was applied. DKC Analytics conducted and analyzed this survey with a sample procured using the Pollfish survey delivery platform, which delivers online surveys globally through mobile apps and the mobile web along with the desktop web.
- 100% of respondents are parents of children under 15 years-old who currently pay for professional child care, as verified by both consumer data and respondent self-confirmation.
- 39% have a youngest child under 4 years-old and 61% have a youngest child between 5 and 14 years-old.
- 35% have one child, 42% have two children, 15% have three children, and 8% have four or more children.
Available in more than 20 countries, Care.com is the world’s leading platform for finding and managing high-quality family care. Care.com is designed to meet the evolving needs of today’s families and caregivers, offering everything from household tax and payroll services and customized corporate benefits packages covering the care needs of working families, to innovating new ways for caregivers to be paid and obtain professional benefits. Since 2007, families have relied on Care.com’s industry-leading products — from child and senior care to pet care and home care. Care.com is an IAC company (NASDAQ: IAC)
Previous Care.com Cost of Care surveys
- The Care.com Cost of Child Care and COVID-19 Child Care Surveys: 2020 Report
- The Care.com Cost of Child Care Survey: 2019 Report
- The Care.com Cost of Child Care Survey: 2018 Report
- The Care.com Cost of Child Care Survey: 2017 Report
- The Care.com Cost of Child Care Survey: 2016 Report
- The Care.com Cost of Child Care Survey: 2015 Report
- The Care.com Cost of Child Care Survey: 2014 Report