Child care is unaffordable for average- and low-wage Minnesotans

The average cost of infant care in Minnesota is more than the average rent.

The children sit down for a moment.
The children sit down for a moment at the Little Ducks Daycare in Blackduck, Minn., in March 2018. In Minnesota, the average cost of infant care is more than the average rent, a new report finds.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News 2018

Infant care in Minnesota is more expensive than almost anywhere in the United States, according to a new fact sheet from the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute.

The average cost of infant care in Minnesota is more than $1,300 per month. That's more than in-state tuition for a four-year public college. It's also about 30 percent more than the average rent.

And those are the costs for families with one child. A typical Minnesota family with an infant and a 4-year-old has to spend even more — nearly 40 percent of their income — on child care.

According to Elise Gould, a senior economist for the institute, the picture for low-wage workers in Minnesota is even worse.

“For a typical minimum-wage worker in Minnesota, even if they’re working full time for a year, they’re spending about three-quarters of their wages on child care. Obviously they simply can’t afford to do that if they’re also going to put a roof over their head and food on the table,” Gould said.

Despite the high cost of care, those who provide it still struggle to get by on the wages they are paid. Nationally, Gould said, the families of child care workers are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers’ families.

Gould said she thinks the solution to the high cost of child care is some sort of subsidy.

“The costs are too high, and yet maybe we’re not paying enough. So, then we need to have an intervention from the government to help make it more affordable for parents,” Gould said. “We need to have the government step in and help out. And make that system a higher quality system that would be better for parents, for children and for the teachers alike.”

Gould said reform that capped families’ child care costs at 7 percent of their income would save a typical Minnesota family with one infant about $10,000 per year.

There are only three places where child care is more expensive than in Minnesota: California, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

“Oftentimes we think about how parents need to save for college, right? And you think about middle-class families socking away money for college. They have 18 years if they start when their child is born,” Gould said. “But when their child is born and they have to cover infant costs, which are more expensive than in-state public college tuition, they don’t have the time to make those savings … and therefore it’s simply just unaffordable to them.”

MPR News reporter Matt Sepic contributed to this story.