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Child Care Costs on the Upswing, Census Bureau Reports

Child care costs have nearly doubled in the last quarter century while the percentage of families who pay for child care has declined, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report Who's Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011 released today. The percent of family income spent on child care has stayed constant between 1986 (the first time these data were collected) and 2011, at around 7 percent, for families who paid for child care even though the cost of child care has increased over time.

"Perhaps the most critical decision parents make in balancing their work and home life is choosing the type of care to provide for their children while they work," said report author Lynda Laughlin, a family demographer in the Census Bureau's Fertility and Family Statistics Branch. "Child care arrangements and the financial burden they impose on families are important issues for policymakers and anyone concerned about the welfare of children. This report is unique in that it is not only the sole study from the Census Bureau on this topic, but also provides a consistent time-series on trends going back to the mid-1980s."

chart: Average Weekly Cost of Child Care for Families with Employed Mothers

Families with an employed mother and children younger than 15 (see chart) paid an average of $143 per week for child care in 2011, up from $84 in 1985 (in constant 2011 dollars).

The median wage for a full-time child care worker did not increase over the last 20 years. The median wage for a child care worker in 2011 was $19,098, not different from $19,680 in 1990 (in constant 2011 dollars).

The percent of families who reported they made a cash payment for child care for at least one of their children declined from 42 percent to 32 percent between 1997 and 2011.

Since 1997, the use of organized day care centers and father-provided care for preschoolers has increased, while the proportion of children cared for by nonrelatives in the provider's home has declined. (There was a change in the data collection methodology in the mid-1990s; 1997 was the first year of data that was affected by this change.)

The report, Who's Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011, and accompanying detailed tables provide data on child care arrangements of preschoolers and grade-schoolers by various demographic characteristics of employed and nonemployed mothers. They also examine the size of weekly child care payments made by selected characteristics of the family.

Meanwhile, more older children (age 5 to 14) have some sort of adult supervision after school or in the evening. Specifically, about one in seven grade school-age children living with a single, employed parent cared for themselves on a regular basis in 2011, down from almost one in four in 1997. That's a fall from 7.3 million to 4.2 million.

"The decline in self-care among these children may be related to changes in child care arrangements," Laughlin said. "More children are in after-school programs as funding for them has increased. Additionally, parents' work schedules may now be more closely mirroring school schedules."

According to the report, self-care was much more prevalent among middle school-age children than among those in elementary school. Five percent of children age 5 to 11 (1.3 million) and 27 percent of children (2.9 million) age 12 to 14 regularly cared for themselves. On average, children spent an average of seven hours per week in self-care. Fifty-six percent of children age 5 to 14 spent less than five hours per week without adult supervision, and 23 percent spent more than 10 hours a week unsupervised.

Child care options outside the home have expanded in recent decades. This is illustrated by a series of maps and detailed tables also released today for states and counties from the economic census indicating that the supply of child care facilities varies across the United States. The tables show that in 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 766,401 child care facilities in the U.S., up from 262,511 facilities in 1987. These establishments include family day care, for-profit child care centers and nonprofit child care centers.

Among states, the average number of facilities per 1,000 children under 5 was 37. North Dakota had the highest ratio of child care facilities per 1,000 children at 80. Nevada had the lowest rate at 17 facilities per 1,000 children under 5. Among counties, there was an average of four child care facilities per 1,000 children. Bronx County, N.Y., had the highest ratio with approximately 18 facilities per 1,000 children under 5.

Other highlights:


  • In a typical week during spring 2011, 12.5 million, or 61 percent, of the 20.4 million children under 5 were in some type of regular child care arrangement.
  • Family members continue to serve as an important source of child care for preschoolers. In 2011, 24 percent of preschoolers were regularly cared for by their grandparents, 18 percent by their fathers (while their mothers worked) and 10 percent by a sibling or other relative. The percentage of preschoolers cared for by grandparents has risen from 1997, when it was 21 percent.
  • Similar percentages of preschoolers with employed black or non-Hispanic white employed mothers were cared for by grandparents (32 percent and 31 percent, respectively).

Hours in Care

  • On average, preschoolers with employed mothers spent 15 hours more in child care than children with nonemployed mothers: 36 hours per week and 21 hours per week, respectively.

Father-Provided Care

  • Preschoolers whose mothers worked nights or evenings were more likely to have their father as a child care provider than those with mothers who worked a day shift (42 percent and 23 percent, respectively).
  • The use of any father care among Hispanic children with employed mothers increased to 32 percent in 2011, up from 20 percent in 2005.

Child Care Costs

  • Mothers with children under 5 were more likely to make child care payments than mothers with children only between 5 and 14 (46 percent and 23 percent, respectively).
  • While the cost of child care increased over time, the percent of monthly family income spent on child care stayed constant between 1997 and 2011, at around 7 percent.
  • Families in poverty who paid for child care in 2011 spent a greater proportion of their monthly income on child care than did families at or above the poverty line (30 percent compared with 8 percent).

The statistics in this report were collected from January through April 2011 in the Survey of Income and Program Participation


These data were collected in the Survey of Income and Program Participation. As in all surveys, these data are subject to sampling and nonsampling error. For further information on the source of the data and accuracy of the estimates, including standard errors and confidence intervals, go to <

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | | Last Revised: July 15, 2014