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The 25 Most and Least Expensive Places for Childcare in the United States (Based on Share of Income)

Childcare is notoriously expensive in the United States. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor released a report in January 2023 stating that “new childcare data shows prices are untenable for families.” The average cost of childcare in America is around $1,300 a month! This means that the cost of childcare consumes $1 of every $4 for millions of Americans. That means that more than 60% of families living in poverty have to sacrifice working in order to stay home and care for children, which creates a domino effect of struggling. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers “affordable” childcare to cost less than 7% of a family’s income. In only 2% of counties in the entire country does the average cost of childcare fall within this limit. Nearly 2/3 of parents spend more than this. 

Overall, childcare is not affordable in 98% of counties across the country. The team at AAAStateofPlay has analyzed childcare cost data to find where childcare is most expensive.

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What Are the Most Expensive Cities for Childcare in the U.S.?

Here are the top 15 most expensive metropolitan areas based on county childcare costs: 

  1. Bronx, NY (Bronx County) — 47% of median household income
  2. Brooklyn, NY (Kings County) — 31.79% of median household income
  3. Boston, MA (Suffolk County) — 28.31% of median household income
  4. Queens, NY (Queens County) — 27.79% of median household income
  5. Fresno, CA (Fresno County) — 26.19% of median household income
  6. Bakersfield, CA (Kern County) — 26.14% of median household income
  7. Milkwaukee, WI (Milwaukee County) — 26.04% of median household income 
  8. Los Angeles, CA (Los Angeles County) — 24.02% of median household income
  9. Baltimore, MD (Baltimore City County) — 24.02% of median household income
  10. Chico, CA (Butte County) — 23.45% of median household income
  11. Riverside, CA (San Bernardino County) — 22.81% of median household income 
  12. Philadelphia, PA (Philadelphia County) — 22.53% of median household income
  13. Minneapolis, MN (Ramsey County) — 22.45% of median household income 
  14. Stockton, CA (San Joaquin County) — 22.09% of median household income 
  15. Springfield, MA (Hampden County) — 22.09% of median household income 

Does Childcare Cost More Than College?

Yes! In 34 states, the price of center-based childcare exceeds annual tuition at a public university. While many parents are concerned with saving for college, the first four years of a child’s life may end up being more expensive.

Why Is Childcare So Expensive?

When asked why childcare costs so much, economists describe the childcare dilemma as a perfect example of “classic market failure.” This is when the price point of a good or service is too expensive for consumers to afford as well as too expensive for the providers to provide. This conundrum is almost impossible to fix in a private market setting. While many other countries subsidize childcare, the U.S. market for childcare is largely private despite being heavily regulated. The U.S. Treasury released a report showing that the typical childcare business entered the pandemic (meaning the pandemic had not yet influenced these figures) with about a 1% profit margin. 

We have other services that are recognized to be essential, such as the fire department, police, libraries, and public schools, which are collectively paid for by the community. Should childcare be considered one of these essential services paid for through taxes? That is a question that is sure to ignite heavy debate. 

Part of why childcare is so expensive is heavy regulations. In the more expensive states like Massachusetts, the law requires a caregiver for every three infants, contributing to the average annual cost of childcare in Massachusetts of around $16,000. In Mississippi, that ratio is one to five, and the average annual cost of childcare in Mississippi is $5,000. There are also high employee turnover rates, largely due to poor childcare worker wages, so facilities need to constantly train new workers to meet regulatory standards. There are also costs such as insurance and legal fees. Real estate is another major obstacle. The higher-quality childcare facilities tend to be in more expensive neighborhoods, meaning that rent is higher. Downsizing is often not an option because most states require ample square footage per child. 

Despite childcare being so prohibitively expensive, the median childcare worker salary is only around $13.22 an hour. That is lower than almost any other occupation and far below the living wage in most states. Many childcare workers are struggling to afford basic needs. Low wages in the childcare sector also means that centers cannot attract sufficient employees, which has lead to childcare deserts, leaving families with few options. A lot of families can’t afford daycare but make too much for assistance as well, creating further challenges. 

If you are wondering how to afford childcare, here are a few resources to explore:

25 Most and Least Expensive Places for Childcare in the United States (Based on Share of Income) 

Top 25 Most Expensive Counties for Childcare


Metro Area

Percent of Median Household Income Spent on Childcare and Median Household Income

1. Bronx County, NY

New York, NY



2. Kings County, NY

New York, NY



3. Suffolk County, MA

Boston, MA



4. Queens County, NY

New York, NY



5. Fresno County, CA

Fresno, CA



6. Kern County, CA

Bakersfield, CA



7. Milwaukee County, WI

Milwaukee, WI



8. Los Angeles County, CA

Los Angeles, CA



9. Baltimore City, MD

Baltimore, MD



10. Butte County, CA

Chico, CA



11. San Bernardino County, CA

Riverside, CA



12. Philadelphia County, PA

Philadelphia, PA



13. Ramsey County, MN

Minneapolis, MN



14. San Joaquin County, CA

Stockton, CA



15. Hampden County, MA

Springfield, MA



16. Richmond County, NY

New York, NY



17. Santa Barbara County, CA

Santa Maria, CA



18. Monterey County, CA

Salinas, CA



19. Whatcom County, WA

Bellingham, WA



20. Essex County, MA

Boston, MA



21. Richmond City, VA

Richmond, VA



22. Trumbull County, OH

Youngstown, OH



23. St. Louis City, MO

St. Louis, MO



24. Mahoning County, OH

Youngstown, OH



25. Riverside County, CA

Riverside, CA



Top 25 Least Expensive Places


Metro Area

Percent of Median Household Income Spent on Childcare and Median Household Income

1. St. Tammany Parish, LA

New Orleans, LA



2. Williamson County, TN

Nashville, TN



3. Tuscaloosa County, AL

Tuscaloosa, AL



4. Harrison County, MS

Gulfport, MS



5. Lafayette Parish, LA

Lafayette, LA



6. Hinds County, MS

Jackson, MS



7. Madison County, AL

Huntsville, AL



8. Forsyth County, GA

Atlanta, GA



9. Collin County, TX

Dallas, TX



10. Fort Bend County, TX

Houston, TX



11. Baldwin County, AL

Daphne, AL



12. Denton County, TX

Dallas, TX



13. Benton County, AR

Fayetteville, AR



14. Williamson County, TX

Austin, TX



15. Shelby County, AL

Birmingham, AL



16. Johnson County, KS

Kansas City, MO



17. Smith County, TX

Tyler, TX



18. Gloucester County, NJ

Philadelphia, PA



19. Brazoria County, TX

Houston, TX



20. Charleston County, SC

Charleston, SC



21. Montgomery County, TX

Houston, TX



22. Chatham County, GA

Savannah, GA



23. Jefferson Parish, LA

New Orleans, LA



24. Cherokee County, GA

Atlanta, GA



25. McLennan County, TX

Waco, TX



Related: School and daycare playground merry-go-rounds and slides.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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