October 23, 2019

Washington State On Top 10 List of Least Affordable Child Care – Again

TACOMA, WA – Oct. 23, 2019 – Washington has some of the least affordable child care in the country, ranking among the top 10 states for least affordable child care when median costs are compared to median incomes. Our state ranks as the second least affordable for care of an infant in a family home child care program, and sixth least affordable for infant care in a center. Washington ranks as the fifth least affordable state for child care for a toddler in a family home program and ninth for that care in a center. For care of a four-year-old, Washington ranks as the seventh least affordable for family home care and 10th least affordable for that care in a center. The rankings come from the newly released report “The U.S. and the High Price of Child Care, an Examination of a Broken System” from Child Care Aware of America.

This is the seventh straight year Washington has ranked on the top 10 list of states with the least affordable child care. Parents across Washington are struggling to afford child care when they can find it. A year of child care often costs more than a year’s tuition at public colleges, and some areas of the state have experienced significant reductions in licensed child care capacity. Most areas have scarce capacity for infant and toddler care. Waitlists of a year or more are common.

“We have not invested in our child care system at a level sufficient to meet demand. Clearly more investment is needed at the state and federal levels, and from the business community, which directly benefits from child care every day when working parents show up for work on time and ready to be productive,” said Ryan Pricco, director of policy and advocacy at Child Care Aware of Washington.

Washington’s child care crisis is costing businesses more than $2 billion each year in employee turnover and missed work due to child care issues, according to a new report from the Child Care Collaborative Task Force, “The Mounting Costs of Child Care.” It found the total cost to our state’s economy exceeds $6.5 billion annually. With the unemployment rate at a historical low, employers are increasingly operating with fewer employees than they need. Increased access to high-quality, affordable child care would allow more parents to enter and remain in the workforce, while simultaneously reducing some of the overall economic impact found in the Mounting Costs of Child Care report. It also would provide crucial early learning to children ages 0-5, the time when 90 percent of their brains develop.

Overall, the cost of child care compared to family income has risen during the past eight years. Since 2011, median household income has increased 18 percent, while median child care rates have increased between 19-22 percent for center-based care and 14-221 percent for family child care.2  Meanwhile the reimbursement rates the state pays to providers who accept children whose families use child care subsidies have not kept pace. Despite recent increases in these rates, the cost to provide quality child care continues to exceed the reimbursements providers receive for providing care for our most vulnerable children and families. For this reason, many providers accept only a few children at a time on subsidy, or none at all. This further restricts access to high-quality child care for low-income families.

As child care costs rise, the portion of income required to cover costs increases as well, leaving some families, especially single-parent families, facing tough choices about which bills to pay each month. This year, the median cost of caring for an infant in a child care center consumed a daunting 52% of the state median income for a single-parent family, up one percent from last year. This care consumes 15.3% of the median income for a married couple. It is not uncommon for child care to be the second most expensive monthly bill for young families, surpassed only by rent/mortgage costs.

Solving Washington’s child care crisis requires increased public, business and philanthropic investment in child care and early learning programs. Child Care Aware of Washington advocates for increased investment, both public and private, and for increased access to high-quality care. We work with providers to improve child care quality and help providers save time and money on the business side of their programs with our online business services portal Washington Child Care Business Edge.

Child Care Aware of Washington tracks child care supply, demand and costs statewide and in every county. Our data reports are available here: https://staging.childcareawarewa.org/advocacy/#data.

Child Care Aware of Washington is a non-profit, 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to connecting families to local, high-quality, licensed child care and early learning programs, and to supporting providers who deliver high-quality care. As a statewide network of six regional agencies, we work side-by-side with child care providers, offering professional development services and higher education scholarships to help providers integrate research-based, best practices into their programs. We are committed to ensuring that each and every child in Washington, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, culture, primary language or economic status, has access to the quality care and early learning they need to succeed in school and life. For more information, please visit our website at http://wa.childcareaware.org and follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Child-Care-Aware-of-Washington-149636987661/ and on Twitter @childcarewa.


  1. Child Care Aware of Washington’s 2018 Data Report: Trends, Child Care Supply, Cost of Care & Demand for Referrals
  2. Washington State Office of Financial Management. Median Household Income, 2017 Projected. https://www.ofm.wa.gov/washington-data-research/economy-and-labor-force/median-household-income-estimates. March 2018