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Most Louisiana families unable to afford average cost of child care, report finds


November 6, 2018
Della Hasselle
The New Orleans Advocate

A new research report has found what many Louisiana families already know: that the typical cost of child care and early education is unaffordable for the majority of working parents in the Pelican State and across the country.

The report, released recently by the national advocacy organization Child Care Aware, said that at $7,540 per year, the average cost of infant care in Louisiana is nearly the same as the annual cost of tuition at a four-year college in the state.

On average, married parents pay up to 10 percent of their annual income for child care in Louisiana, the report found, but the ratio can be much higher for other types of households.

Single parents, for example, pay on average 37.9 percent of their income for care at an infant center, while married parents of two children living at the poverty line pay up to 47.4 percent.

“I think the message is that in all states, child care is unaffordable for families,” said Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the nonprofit Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.

The report drew on findings Bronfin’s organization published last year, documenting how child care issues play out for Louisiana’s workforce, businesses and the economy.

That study found a “large, negative economic impact” in Louisiana and is being replicated in other states, the Child Care Aware authors noted.

“As advocates and policy makers at the state level work to make the case for quality early childhood education, they are turning to regional and state research for evidence,” the national report said.

When comparing costs nationwide, Louisiana actually fared better than most other states, the report found, as it’s one of seven nationwide where families on average pay 10 percent or less of their annual income.

Nationwide, early care for children up to age 4 can exceed 27 percent of household income for working, single-parent families and cost $9,000 a year per child for any household, Child Care Aware found.

In some states, the sticker shock can be much higher, with families paying up to $16,000 or more a year for day care.

But while state averages are relatively low in Louisiana, the cost of child care also can vary widely among parishes. In New Orleans, for example, day care centers can cost parents up to $250 a week or more, coming to more than $13,000 a year.

The burden can have significant impacts on local and state economies, the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children found in its 2017 report.

The report, called “Losing Ground: How Child Care Impacts Louisiana’s Workforce Productivity and the State Economy,” said that child care issues result in more than $1.1 billion in losses annually for the state’s economy.

Overall, more than 16 percent of those interviewed for the report had quit jobs because of child care issues, and more than 14 percent had turned down a promotion, the experts noted.

And not only are they still too high for families, but the lower tuition for early education in the Pelican State also come with the price of lower quality.

“We are one of the cheapest states — but part of why that is is because of our high child-teacher ratios, and that’s a problem,” Bronfin said.

She and others point to a recent state legislative auditor’s report, which found that child care centers in Louisiana generally don’t match best practices in the industry, such as meeting national child-teacher ratios, and that they are woefully under-evaluated.

For example, the audit found that Louisiana is one of only eight states that allow family and in-home providers to care for more than six children at a time without having to get a license.