Child Care is Out of Reach for Families in Montana

It’s back-to-school! The beginning of the school year can take a lot of pressure off of parents who have had to juggle work, summer camps, and child care demands throughout the summer. When kids are back in school, working parents can rest assured that their kids are in a safe and learning environment. But what about parents whose children are not old enough to be enrolled in school yet? This week we’re exploring child care in Montana. Today’s blog, the first in a series of four, delves into child care affordability.

More and more families struggle to get by on low wages and provide resources that support children. Access to quality and affordable child care is one solution that enables parents to maintain stable employment and gives children the skills they need to succeed.

Unfortunately, child care is out of reach for many working families in Montana. On average, a family will spend $7,900 a year ($660 a month) to place their four-year old in full-time center care. The steep cost of child care, combined with a low state median income ranks Montana the 12th least affordable state for child care for families with a four year old. For families with infants, the cost is even higher, running more than $9,000 a year ($755 a month) per infant.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) considers child care affordable if it consumes less than 10 percent of a family’s income. In Montana, both low-and middle-income families spend above this threshold on child care. For example, a two-parent family with median household earnings ($74,300) and two children in care devotes 21 percent of their total income on child care alone. For this family, child-care expenses exceed even big-budget items like housing and college tuition [Chart 1].

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Paying for child care is an even greater challenge for low-income families in Montana. Over 34,000 low-income children are living in households where both parents – or a single parent – must work to pay the bills and put food on the table. These children need safe and stimulating care environments while their parents are at work, but parents who earn low-wages often cannot afford high-quality care. For a single mother working full-time and earning minimum wage ($16,744 a year), the cost of full-time child care for a four-year old makes up nearly half of her entire income (47 percent), taking already strained resources away from basic necessities like rent, food, health care, and transportation.

Some low-income families in Montana qualify for assistance to help cover the costs of child care. Stay tuned tomorrow to learn more about how child care assistance helps parents maintain stable employment, earn more, and enter the workforce. Later in the week, we will learn about some possible solutions to making quality child care affordable for more families.

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