Affordable child care tends to be one of those episodic concerns. Many working parents endure the expense, gritting their teeth until their children are ready for public school and, when they are, turn their attention to other worries.


In D.C., child-care centers for infants cost an average of $18,200 annually, and for older children, an average of $14,500, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA).

That’s more than the average of every state in the country.

It’s also significantly more than the average tuition and fees for two years at a public college.

Maryland is not far behind with average costs working out to $12,400 for an infant in day care and $8,700 for an older child. In Virginia the average is $8,800 and $6,650 respectively.

D.C., of course, is at a disadvantage when measured against states in surveys like this one. It’s a high-cost urban area that has more in common with other cities, not states.

Still, when the Arlington-based NACCRRA compared median incomes to child-care costs, the District still came out as one of the least affordable areas for child care. It ranked as the sixth least affordable locale for child-care centers.

Association spokeswoman Kristin S. Palmer said that although two-family incomes in the District are often much higher than the national median, single parents have a very low median income, so the cost of child care is far less affordable for single parents.

She said the average annual cost of care for an infant in a center represents almost 70 percent of median income for a single mother in D.C. Seventy percent. That leaves very little left for housing, let alone a trip to the grocery store.

With the recession, families of lower, even average, incomes may be forced to pull their children from license centers and send them to unlicensed, unregulated centers or homes. More often than not, these plan Bs are substandard.

It’s well-established that the quality of a day-care program can have long-term effects on the development of a child, especially for children in lower-income families. The National Institutes of Health last year published a study about the academic and behavioral benefits of high-quality child care.

In other words, the families here who would most benefit from high-quality care are nowhere near being able to afford it. Even if our families are no longer in the day-care years, that’s a problem for us all.