Illinois eighth least affordable for daycare

Online Staff Report

There’s no question that childcare is a significant expense for working families, but a report released last week shows daycare expenses in Illinois far exceed national averages. In fact, it’s cheaper to send your kids to college.

In 36 states, including Illinois, the average annual cost for center-based care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and related fees at a four-year public college.

The report, Parents and the High Cost of Childcare, published by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), presents 2010 data about what parents pay for full-time childcare in America. It reveals that monthly daycare fees for two children represent the single-largest household expenditure nationally and outrank annual median housing payments in every state.

Childcare is essential for the economy and for the family. Safe, affordable, nurturing childcare allows parents to work,” said Linda K. Smith, NACCRRA’s executive director.

The report continues: “Finding affordable, accessible, quality childcare is one of the most difficult challenges parents face. The prolonged economic recovery makes childcare choices even more difficult.”

According to the NACCRRA report, the average annual cost for an infant in daycare in the state of Illinois is $11,800, and an average of $12,100 in the state’s urban areas.

Childcare costs are a greater strain on the budget for parents with more than one child in care. If a family has another older child, the annual cost increases to $21,050 for two children in urban daycare centers.

So, what are the options beyond daycare? Suze Orman’s online calculator for affordable babysitting provides the going rates for babysitters by ZIP code nationally. In Chicago, it’s $12 an hour for a babysitter with two years of experience taking care of two children. At 40 hours per week, that’s $480 per week, or $24,960 annually. And nannies can make even more. Nannys4Hire gives nannies with 2-plus years of experience a salary range that averages from $400 to $1,000 per week, or $20,800 to $52,000 annually, plus benefits, taxes and overtime pay.

The rise in daycare costs has led more parents to consider more economical child care options, including spouses working opposite shifts, neighbors sharing childcare responsibilities, and parents enlisting the help of a relative. According to census figures released last week, grandparents are stepping in more than ever to provide care for their grandchildren.

One option for many families is the au pair program. Au pairs are experienced, trained young people from overseas who come to the U.S. on a cultural exchange visa to provide up to 45 hours per week of live-in childcare.

The average weekly cost of an au pair is $345, regardless of the number of children in the family. This includes the application fee, selection fee, program fee and the au pair’s weekly stipend, and works out to be $7.70 per hour. The average annual cost for an au pair is $17,630.

Dorte Strobel, program director for Cultural Care Au Pair, who works closely with families in Illinois, said the au pair program is an increasingly attractive option because it allows parents to set a schedule that works for them on a weekly basis.

The cost remains the same whether a family works a traditional 9 to 5 schedule or has the au pair work non-traditional hours.

Cost conscious parents need to be creative with their childcare solutions as parents take on additional jobs or work longer hours,” said Strobel. “In this current economic climate, I am talking to more and more middle-class families who are looking for flexibility as well as affordability in their childcare choice.”

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