The Top 10 Most Expensive (and Least Expensive) States for Child Care

Trevor Wheelwright
Researcher & Writer
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Published on April 13, 2021
3 min read
Map of the Average Cost of Child Care by State

Parents know that child care isn’t cheap, but they might not realize how much those costs differ across the United States—or how much of their income they can expect to spend.

On top of that, with added challenges and more time at home during the pandemic, how are parents handling their child care alongside work?

Using data from the Economic Policy Institute and the US Census Bureau, we dug into the average cost of child care and compared it to the average income in each state. We also surveyed parents, asking them about child care and how the pandemic has affected them.

If you’re thinking about moving across the country, you may find a better way to manage your work, income, and time by finding affordable child care. How does your state compare for child care?

How much does child care cost?

On average, infant child care costs $216 a week, which is 17.1% of the national median household income.

Infant care in the US costs anywhere from 10.9% of household income—like in South Dakota—all the way up to 26.3% of household income in Washington, DC. Even at the low end, that’s no small part of your income.

Keep in mind, infant care is generally more expensive than care for older kids. For example, national average daycare prices for 4year-olds are a bit cheaper at $175 per week or 13.9% of the median income.

Note: For the percentage of income ranking, we used infant care data. To provide a hard dollar amount for child care as a whole, we used the average price of both infant care and four-year-old care.

If you want to see your state’s stats, you can jump to the full table below 


The 10 most expensive states for child care

Rank
State
Infant care as a % of income
Average cost of child care
Median household income*
1District of Columbia26.30%$21,678$92,266
2Massachusetts24.40%$18,004$85,843
3Indiana21.90%$14,210$57,603
4Minnesota21.60%$14,170$74,593
5New York21.30%$14,116$72,108
6California21.10%$13,876$80,440
7Vermont20.30%$13,858$63,001
8Oregon20.30%$12,803$67,058
9Illinois19.90%$12,795$69,187
10Nebraska19.90%$12,465$63,229

*Margin of error varies state-by-state and ranges from $313 to $3,011

  • Three of the most populated states are also the most expensive for child care: New York, California, and Illinois.
  • Except for California and Oregon, child care is most expensive in the East and Midwest.
  • In dollar amount, Nebraska pays nearly half of what Washington, DC does for child care, but Nebraska’s median household income is also nearly $30,000 less.

The 10 least expensive states for child care

To find more affordable child care, you might need to move to the southern United States. Six out of the 10 most affordable places for child care can be found in the South: Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, and Arkansas.

Rank
State
Infant care as a % of income
Average cost of child care
Median household income*
51South Dakota10.90%$6,430$59,533
50Alabama11.60%$5,593$51,734
49Mississippi11.90%$5,110$45,792
48Idaho12.30%$6,964$60,999
47Kentucky12.30%$6,411$52,295
46South Carolina12.50%$6,507$56,227
45Utah13.10%$8,796$75,780
44Georgia13.80%$7,918$61,980
43Arkansas14.10%$6,184$48,952
42North Dakota14.10%$6,430$64,577

*Margin of error varies state by state and ranges from $313 to $3,011

Outside the South, family-friendly Utah and Idaho are also great options, as well as South Dakota and North Dakota.


What do parents think of child care costs in America?

According to our survey, the cost of child care is prohibitive for parents, leaving them to make hard decisions about how to best care for themselves and their families:

  • 80% believe that child care could be more affordable
  • 44% of parents who left the workforce during the pandemic said it was because the cost of child care was too much
  • 65% agree that if child care was more affordable they would have more career options/ prospects
  • 59% have struggled to pay for child care
  • 35% said the cost of child care has prevented them from expanding their family
  • 60% know someone who wanted to/could be in the workforce but left to look after their child
  • 79% feel like today’s work culture can be more supportive of working parents

How has COVID affected child care for parents?

Not only did COVID-19 bring up issues about health and safety, but it also emphasized the financial struggles of parenting.

How has COVID affected child care for parents

According to the parents in our survey, we learned the following:

  • 52% had to step away from career prospects due to lack of child care support/ availability in the last year
  • 74% were hesitant to send their child to a child care provider due to COVID-19
  • 72% said COVID-19 made it more difficult to find child care
  • 62% said COVID-19 made it more difficult to pay for child care
  • 66% struggled to manage child care and be a working parent during the pandemic
  • 39% felt parent guilt for putting their child in daycare this last year
  • 73% feel that caregivers have been disproportionately affected during COVID-19 by taking on more domestic labor

No one said parenting would be easy, but having more affordable child care could make a huge difference. And while the pandemic continues, working families are feeling extra stress.

If you and your kids need a change, getting a fresh start can help. Here are a few moving resources:


Most expensive child care by state in 2021

Rank
State
Infant care as a % of income
Median household income
Average annual cost of child care
1District of Columbia26.30%$92,266$21,678
2Massachusetts24.40%$85,843$18,004
3Indiana21.90%$57,603$11,085
4Minnesota21.60%$74,593$14,170
5New York21.30%$72,108$13,876
6California21.10%$80,440$14,210
7Vermont20.30%$63,001$12,265
8Oregon20.30%$67,058$11,839
9Illinois19.90%$69,187$12,087
10Nebraska19.90%$63,229$11,996
11Colorado19.90%$77,127$13,858
12Connecticut19.70%$78,833$14,116
13Wisconsin19.60%$64,168$11,382
14Rhode Island19.20%$71,169$12,192
15Pennsylvania18.70%$63,463$10,808
16Washington18.50%$78,687$12,803
17Virginia18.40%$76,456$12,465
18Michigan18.20%$59,584$9,876
19Kansas18.10%$62,087$10,010
20Nevada18.00%$63,276$10,229
21West Virginia17.90%$48,850$8,190
22Maryland17.70%$86,738$12,795
23Arizona17.60%$62,055$9,748
24Missouri17.50%$57,409$8,528
25Iowa16.80%$61,691$9,506
26Montana16.70%$57,153$8,942
27New Mexico16.60%$51,945$8,113
28Ohio16.50%$58,642$8,796
29North Carolina16.50%$57,341$8,797
30Hawaii16.50%$83,102$11,334

Methodology

To rank each state’s affordability of child care, we compared the average annual cost of infant care (from the Economic Policy Institute) to the median household income in the past 12 months (from the U.S Census Bureau). Infant care can be seen as a “max” expense since older children’s child care is the same price or less in every state. The data ranges from February 2020 through February 2021.

Our survey of 700 parents was conducted via Pollfish on March 16, 2021.

Trevor Wheelwright
Written by
Trevor Wheelwright
Trevor’s written about home products and services for over six years across editorial publications and retail/eCommerce sites. His work's been featured on Forbes, RealSimple, USA Today, MSN, BusinessInsider, Entrepreneur, PCMag, and CNN. When he’s not researching and writing, you can find him around Salt Lake City, Utah, snapping photos of mountains and architecture or seeking out some good tunes and friendly faces.