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Child Care Costs Make Attaining Middle-Class Tough

Published Friday Sep 7, 2018

Author Robert Paul Hartley, Beth Mattingly, Christopher T. Wimer

Child Care Costs Make Attaining Middle-Class Tough

Most Americans believe that through hard work and saving they can secure an economically sound, middle-class lifestyle. But for many working families, the high price of child care makes this goal extremely challenging. In this brief, from the Carsey School of Public Policy, authors Robert Paul Hartley, Marybeth Mattingly, and Christopher Wimer present estimates of the number of families that cannot maintain a middle-class income as a result of child care expenses. 


  • Approximately 9 percent of working families with children under age 6 are pushed out of the middle class as a result of child care expenses.
  • For working families with very young children (under age 3), 8 percent are pushed below the middle-class threshold.
  • If all middle-class working families with young children were to pay what typical upper-middle and middle-class families pay for child care, roughly $6,900 per year on average, an additional 21 percent would be pushed below the middle-class threshold.

"We find that, indeed, many working families cannot attain middle-income status because of child care expenses, while many additional families maintain this status by relying on unpaid child care, informal arrangements with family or friends, or below-market-rate services, potentially from unlicensed care providers. An even greater share of middle-class families would be pushed out if they incurred typical child care costs," the brief states.

If we want to make a middle-class quality of life attainable for working families with young children, then public policies—including expanded public funding for child care, income maintenance programs, and refundable tax credits—could play an important role in supporting families with their child care needs."

Read the full report at


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