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Pa. parents pay more for child care

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007

Pennsylvania parents with babies in day care centers pay more on average than parents in 43 other states, a national report has determined.

The cost of infant care in a day care center consumes 15.7 percent of the income of the median two-parent family in the state, the National Association of Child Care Resources & Referral Agencies in Arlington, Va., said in a report released Tuesday.

The average annual cost for infant care -- for a child up to 12 months old -- is $11,200, and when figured as a percentage of the median two-parent family's income of $71,294, it puts Pennsylvania fourth on the list of least affordable states for child care.

In terms of actual average costs, Pennsylvania ranks seventh on the list of costliest states, according to the report based on 2006 prices.

"The cost of child care is out of reach for too many families," said Linda Smith, executive director of the association representing child care referral agencies. She said public subsidies for child care should rise and, "No parent should be forced to choose a poor-quality child care setting just because they can't afford or find anything better."

For single, working parents in Pennsylvania, infant care costs take an even greater toll -- 50.3 percent of their median family income of $22,270, the report said.

Child care costs, in fact, are rising faster than inflation. The report found that average infant care costs rose 6.9 percent from 2005 to 2006.

Angela Wheland of Cranberry was surprised with Pennsylvania's place on the child care cost list.

Wheland, communications manager with Lanxess Corp. in Findlay, said she's pleased with the care her 16-month-old son, Ian, receives at the Carol Leone Child Care & Development Center in Coraopolis. She and her husband, Richard, pay about $200 a week, or $10,400 annually.

"Maybe it's because I did my research before I went out looking at day care, but the costs were exactly what I expected," she said. "When you have two working parents, you anticipate the cost of child care and day care."

As a director of the Hill House Early Learning and Child Development Program in Hill District, Dewayne Cheatham knows about the high cost of caring for babies. "It is very expensive for infant care. It really takes a big part of the family budget," he said.

One reason that Pennsylvania ranked so high on the least affordable list is that the state's median family income for a two-parent household ranked 19th among the states.

About 234,000 children ages 17 or younger in the seven-county Pittsburgh region had both parents in the labor force, according to the 2000 Census. That represents 60.8 percent of all children in two-parent homes in the region.

State regulations on staffing drive up infant care costs, Cheatham said. The state welfare department requires licensed centers to have one staff member for every four infants, but only one employee for 10 preschoolers.

Parents using the Hill House program can afford it, he said, because so many receive assistance through the Child Care Partnership Program operated by the YMCA in Pittsburgh. Hill House charges $32 a day for infant care.

Jan Sapotichne, director of the Greensburg YMCA's child care programs, said she wasn't surprised that the report showed child care costs straining family budgets.

"We have a lot of families that struggle with child care in affording it," said Sapotichne, who oversees programs for toddlers, preschoolers and school-age youngsters.

Close to 30 percent of the families the YMCA serves in its child care programs are eligible for state child care assistance, Sapotichne said.

Staff writer Ron DaParma contributed to this article. Joe Napsha can be reached at jnapsha@tribweb.com or 412-320-7993.

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