Child care costs vary in DC region with highest in Alexandria

Any parent will tell you that child care is expensive, but families living in one Virginia city are paying the most in the D.C. region.

Parents in Alexandria, Virginia, are paying the largest portion of their median family income for child care. According to new child care data analyzed by the Women’s Bureau, parents who live in Alexandria pay 17% of their income for an infant at a day care center, about $24,000 on average. They pay 14% of their income to put a child in preschool there.

The next most expensive jurisdiction is Arlington County, where parents pay nearly 16% of their annual income to have care for their infant child, averaging around $27,220 per household. The numbers drop slightly for preschool care, which takes 13% of the family’s annual budget.

The third most costly is Montgomery County, where parents pay on average $21,000 annually for infant care.

Data for D.C. was not available. The prices were based on the most recent data from 2018 and adjusted for inflation in 2022.

Most day care centers charge more for infant care than a toddler or preschool aged child. But as the pandemic showed, many government leaders, including D.C.’s Mayor Muriel Bowser, say that affordable and available day care is a huge driver for getting parents to return to work in-person.

The study, run by the group that is under the U.S. Bureau of Labor, found that there is a correlation with a lower percentage of women in the workplace, where child care costs are high.

Across the D.C. region, around 80% of women contribute to the workforce, give or take a few percentage points based on location, which is higher than the national average. Most also make more than the average American woman.

However, the amount they’re paying in child care varies rather widely depending on where they live. For example, parents in Alexandria pay $13,000 more on average than those in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, to put an infant in a child care center.

The estimates presented reflect the average amount paid for one child, but 29% of families with children under age 6 have two or more children in this age group.

In Fairfax and Prince William counties in Virginia, child care costs are relatively the same, with parents spending 11% of their annual income on day care. In Loudoun County, parents pay $21,000 or about 13% of their income for infant care at day care centers.

The interactive map attached to the study offers those who are interested the ability to change the search to compare in-home day care for infants, toddlers and preschool aged children, as well as in-center options for those ages to other jurisdictions.

In its release on the study, the Women’s Bureau noted that although child care is expensive, child care providers operate on thin margins, and nationally, as compared with other professions, receive low wages — a median of $13.22 an hour.

“This is lower than almost any other occupation, and wages fall below the living wage in most states, failing to meet childcare workers’ basic needs. Low pay in the childcare sector means that employers cannot attract sufficient workers and many areas are considered childcare deserts, leaving families with limited options,” the release said.

Find the interactive map here.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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