Cost of Child Care for Single Mothers


More than 11 million children younger than age five are in some form of child care in the United States and parents pay a significant portion of their income for child care.



Child care is the biggest expense for many parents with young children, ahead of housing and food.

Although the federal government provides some child care subsidies for low-income parents, the reality is that parents still pay a significant portion of their income for child care.

And the growing costs have put a tremendous strain on their budgets, especially for those with two or more children.

In most states, the average cost of center-based infant care exceeds 30% of median income for single mothers.

Massachusetts is the most unaffordable state for single mother families,1 with full-time center-based infant care costing nearly 70% of their income.2

Top 10 Least-Affordable States for Center-Based Infant Care in 2017

State Average Annual Cost Cost of care
Massachusetts$20,41570.3%
California$16,54260.4%
Oregon$13,29255.9%
New York$15,02855.7%
Indiana$12,31254.3%
Minnesota$15,70454.1%
Washington$14,20851.6%
Colorado$14,96049.2%
Nebraska$12,27247.3%
Nevada$11,13740.2%

The table above shows that the cost of child care as a percentage of their income is simply too high. In fact, in most states, one year of infant day care in a center is more expensive than a year of public college.

Even in less expensive states, single mothers likely couldn’t afford the cost of child care at all. Not when they have to spend one third of their monthly income on child care expenses.



Tables below show the ranking of least affordable states for single mothers with a 4-year-old and a school-age child.

The states were ranked from least affordable to most affordable, based on the cost of care compared to state median income for a single mother family.

Top 10 Least-Affordable States for Center-Based Care for a 4-Year-Old in 2017

State Average Annual Cost Cost of care
Massachusetts$14,73650.8%
New York$12,06444.7%
Vermont$11,43843.8%
Nebraska$11,14843.0%
Oregon$9,82241.3%
Minnesota$11,96041.2%
California$11,20240.9%
Colorado$12,09539.8%
Washington$10,78839.2%
Nevada$8,83531.9%

Massachusetts’s child care, averaging $14,700 a year, is among the most expensive states to keep your 4-year-old kids in day care here. New York is close behind.

Top 10 Least-Affordable States for a School-age Child in a Center in 2017

State Average Annual Cost Cost of care
Alabama$5,51637.6%
Kentucky$5,52437.2%
Wyoming$7,01736.8%
West Virginia$4,99735.5%
Illinois$6,33032.8%
Alaska$6,93426.6%
Arizona$5,16226.4%
Idaho$4,23925.5%
Nevada$5,27525.4%
Kansas$4,87525.4%

Alabama tops the least affordable list for before-/after-school care for a school-age child with 37.6% of the families’ income paying for child care. Kentucky, Wyoming, West Virginia, Illinois, and Alaska round out the top five.


  1. Affordability is a comparison of cost against state median income for a single mother family.
  2. Child Care Aware®, Parents & The High Cost of Child Care: 2018 Report. State rankings do not include the District of Columbia.