The Regressive Effects of Child-Care Regulations

The Regressive Effects of Child-Care Regulations

Child care in the United States is expensive, but its cost varies greatly by region. Data from Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit that works in child-care policy, indicate the average annual cost for full-time care of an infant at a child-care center in 2016 ranged from $5,178 in Mississippi to $23,089 in the District of Columbia. Even if we account for different income levels by state, these costs are very high. In Mississippi that infant’s child care is 24% of median income for a single-parent household, while in D.C. it is a staggering 89.1%. For households with two young children, the combined burden is higher still.
Child-care policy is left to state governments and wide variation exists regarding policies and subsidies to assist poorer families with these costs. Overall, data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggest U.S. out-of-pocket child-care costs for a lone parent working full-time are higher as a percentage of earnings than in any other OECD country. And there is less taxpayer support for U.S. child care than in other OECD countries.
This high cost can have a large negative effect on the poor and can fuel political demands for increased government intervention and spending on child care. Empirical research indicates that parents (poorer single mothers especially) are particularly sensitive to child-care prices when making decisions about entering the labor market. Evidence from a range of studies suggests mothers from poorer families and those with low levels of educational attainment are least likely to be working.

Ryan Bourne


Fall 2018

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By |2018-09-19T13:16:03+00:00January 1st, 2018|Efficiency/Growth, Inequality, Occupational Licensing, Reference|