Child care is broken in the US: These 5 mind-blowing stats prove it – USA TODAY

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On Monday, more than 1,000 U.S. child care providers plan to temporarily shut down facilities or call in sick to take part in the country’s third annual “Day Without Child Care.” The event seeks to raise awareness about early learning professionals’ critical role in the nation’s economy and how little they earn in return for that labor. 

“We can’t make it work without more money, bottom line,” Yessika Magdaleno, who has provided child care for nearly 23 years in Garden Grove, California, said in a statement. “I’m always told that I should close my doors and try working in a different, more lucrative industry, but I don’t want to do that.” 

For a short period after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, society seemed to acknowledge that early learning professionals are the workforce behind the workforce, making it possible for essential employees to be on-site at their jobs.

The sector received an infusion of relief funding, including a historic $24 billion from the federal government. Tens of thousands of centers that would’ve otherwise shuttered kept their staff on payroll and stayed open. Parents were able to keep their positions. 

But that funding expired last fall. And while some states have since increased child care allocations, many have not. An analysis published this month by the National Women’s Law Center found that, in states without significant funding increases, the percentage of families unable to access child care has grown since the federal dollars dried up. Nearly a quarter – 23.1% – can’t find or pay for care, up from 17.8% in the fall. 

The workers planning to take the day off have drawn attention to inequities faced in their profession. Here are five striking statistics that shed light on America’s broken child care system. 

Day Without Child Care:Hundreds of providers closed as educators went on strike. Here’s why


That’s the median hourly wage for a child care worker in this country.

While the numbers vary by state and locale, these professionals earn less in part because they work with younger children, a situation scholars refer to as “a pay penalty.” Poverty rates among early childhood professionals are 7.7 times higher than those among educators who teach students in grades K-8, according to research out of the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. 

The pay penalty is especially pronounced among women of color, who account for much of the child care workforce. Black early educators, for example, are paid $0.78 less per hour on average than their white counterparts, according to the UC-Berkeley research.


One in 5 families spends this amount or more on child care in a single year, according to a report from, an online marketplace for finding such services. That’s nearly $12,000 more than the average cost of attending a public four-year university – including tuition, fees and room and board. And it’s more than double the average cost of rent in the U.S. 

More broadly, the report found that nearly half of parents spend more than $18,000 a year on care expenses. This is unaffordable for most families, especially people struggling to make ends meet.

Yet the vast majority of children whose parents would be eligible for subsidies through the largest federal child care program don’t receive that support in a given month. That program – the Child Care and Development Block Grant – is severely underfunded. 


According to a federal report last year, that’s the portion of a single parent’s income, in some areas (such as Washington, D.C.), that is spent on infant care. The cost is untenable even in states on the low end (such as South Dakota), where infant care accounted for a quarter of a single parent’s household income.

High child care costs often compel parents to leave the workforce. But without alternatives, many single parents turn to the lowest-cost option, which may mean unlicensed providers

14.4 million

This is how many U.S. children 5 and younger have all available parents in the workforce and thus need care, Census data suggest. That’s roughly 2 in 3 children in this age group. In other words, households with more than one income struggle, too.  

Many parents find themselves having to choose between work and child care. In one 2023 poll of voters, more than a quarter of respondents with children under 6 said they or a family member had to miss work because of child care issues. Nearly 6 in 10 participants who aren’t working or only working part time said they’d work full time if they had access to quality, affordable child care. 

Child care relief:Billions in funding just expired. Costs are already skyrocketing.

$122 billion

According to a report by ReadyNation, this is how much money is sucked out of the nation’s economy due to its child care crisis. The crisis forces parents out of jobs and undermines young children’s learning trajectories, culminating in huge losses in earnings, productivity and revenue. 

In other words, it’s not just parents who suffer. Businesses and taxpayers also take a hit.

Why is the child care system so broken? The biggest reason is that such care is too expensive for families, and public funding is inadequate, said Marcy Whitebook, director emerita of UC-Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. “More often than not, public investment is temporary because policymakers decide the problem it was designed to solve is over. Of course, the needs aren’t temporary in child care.”

As Kishia Saffold, a child care owner and operator in Alabama, put it, “It’s only a matter of time until the system implodes.”

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