Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Report: WA's high cost of child care hits single moms hardest

caption: Seattle Preschool Program teacher Hien Do dances with her students on June 28, 2017, at the ReWA Beacon Hill Early Learning Center in Seattle.
Enlarge Icon
Seattle Preschool Program teacher Hien Do dances with her students on June 28, 2017, at the ReWA Beacon Hill Early Learning Center in Seattle.
KUOW photo/Megan Farmer

A new report finds the average annual cost to send a toddler to a child care center in Washington state has risen to more than $14,000.

Only five other states — Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York — and Washington, D.C., had a higher average annual cost for child care.

And it’s especially burdensome for single mothers.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “KIDS COUNT” report, based on 2022 census data, found that the average single mom in Washington spends nearly 40% of her income on child care. For married couples, meanwhile, it’s about 12%.

Stephan Blanford is the executive director of Children’s Alliance, a statewide advocacy group. He says the soaring cost for child care pushes women out of the workforce.

“We’re losing all the gains of women in the workforce,” he said. “It’s going to have these huge impacts on our ability to restart the economy.”

The study found about 12% of Washington families were forced to switch jobs last year because of child care problems.

Not only does the problem hamper the economy, but Blanford said it also could have devastating effects on children.

“Given the fact that my background is in education, I know how important high-quality early learning is to kids being successful K-12 and then later on in life,” Blanford said. “There’s a whole sector of children that are not going to get access to high-quality care when it costs that much.”

Washington’s dearth of affordable child care also will exacerbate existing racial and socioeconomic disparities, Blanford said.

While a middle-class family might struggle with the cost, Blanford said “they can figure out a way to enroll their kid.” But it’s different for low-income families, who Blanford said are predominantly people of color and rural families.

“They will not have that option," he said. “So, their kids either won’t have access to high-quality child care, or it will be so cost prohibitive that it has huge impacts elsewhere in their lives.”

Blanford said state and federal governments need to step in to help families afford child care and to make the industry more viable.

Many providers struggle to balance keeping tuition affordable for families with providing competitive wages for teachers. The mean hourly wage for a child care worker in Washington is $17.75, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We talk to many child care providers who say we are losing our staff because they can make more working at Burger King,” Blanford said. “There’s just something fundamentally wrong with that.”

Why you can trust KUOW