Child care in Travis County is the most expensive in Texas, new data show

AUSTIN (KXAN) Child care in Travis County is more expensive than anywhere else in the state, according to the National Database of Childcare Prices (NDCP), a new data source released this year by the U.S Department of Labor Women’s Bureau.

With 2,360 counties — including the 254 counties in Texas — represented in the NDCP, the new data provide the most comprehensive federal source of child care prices at the county level in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

According to the department’s initial findings, the data show “child care remains out of financial reach for many families.”

Cathy McHorse — vice president of Success by 6, a coalition of early childhood advocates with United Way for Greater Austin — said she isn’t surprised that Travis County tops the list in Texas.

“When we hear about Austin and our crisis of affordability, child care is a major component of affordability. It’s the second-highest cost for families behind housing,” McHorse said.

‘Stuck in the middle’

East Austin residents Morgann Hubbard and her husband, Orlundo, introduced a new member to their family in May 2021 with the birth of their baby girl, Ammi.

Image of Ami Hubbard, Morgann Hubbard's two-year-old daughter
Image of Ammi, Morgann Hubbard’s two-year-old daughter. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

Shortly after Ammi was born, Hubbard landed a new job working in finance, an industry where she had previous experience and loved. Additionally, the position allowed her to work from home with her husband and take care of their baby.

“It was a door reopened. Working in finance was more than a job; it was security for my family and children,” Hubbard said.

Nearly six months into the new job, Hubbard said she was informed all employees were required to be in office, meaning she could no longer work from home.

As Hubbard began searching for options, she learned the reality of finding affordable child care with availability in Travis County.

“It was just completely out of our budget,” Hubbard said. “We were looking at the equivalent of another rent and half of a car payment.”

Hubbard said they looked into financial assistance programs, but they didn’t qualify because their household income surpassed the low-income threshold required for approval.

“We realized we were stuck in the middle where we either made too much to get assistance, or we didn’t make enough to even put her in a part time day care center because the rates are so high,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard told KXAN her family came first and her children needed her home, which is why she felt she had no other option than to leave the job she loved after just seven months.

“If child care was more accessible, I’d still be working full time, without a doubt,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard’s reality is playing out for families across the country who face “burdensome child care expenses,” according to Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon in a Department of Labor news release issued earlier this year.

“The last few years have highlighted the tension parents experience when they need to go to work to provide for their families, but have difficulty doing so if they can’t access affordable child care,” Chun-Hoon said.

Child care cost data

The new data was developed to better understand how child care prices affect women in the workforce and provides parents tools to better prepare for the expenses of child care, the NDCP technical report states.

According to the Department of Labor, the NDCP provides child care price data for the most recent year of data collection, 2018, as well as inflation-adjusted data to represent 2022 real dollars.

The data provides the median yearly prices for both center-based and home-based child care for age ranges zero to 12, which is broken into four separate age groups:

  1. Infant: 0-23 months
  2. Toddler: 24-35 months
  3. Pre-School: 36-60 months
  4. School Age

KXAN analyzed the data across Texas for all age groups and child care types and found the most expensive child care in almost every category to be in Travis County.

In Travis County, the data show a median annual price of nearly $12,000 for infant center-based care, meaning parents can typically expect to pay at least this much for their infants to be in a day care facility.

Home-based child care is a less expensive option than a day care — and that trend holds up across the state. The data show Travis County parents on average may save approximately $1,500 a year if they instead choose home-based child care.

Chart illustrating the cost for center-based child care compared to home-based child care in Travis County across all ages. Source: National Database of Childcare Prices, U.S. Department of Labor (KXAN Interactive/Dalton Huey)

With the exception of toddler-center-based care, no other county in the state charges more than Travis for both home and center-based child care, according to the data.

Tarrant County and Collin County were the second and third most expensive counties for child care in the state — around $1,000 less than Travis County a year.

2022 inflation-adjusted median yearly price for child care among the top three most expernsive counties in Texas. Source: National Database of Childcare Prices, U.S. Department of Labor (KXAN Interactive/Dalton Huey)

According to Texas Health and Human Services, there are currently 624 licensed or registered child care centers in Travis County. The total capacity for these centers across all age groups is just over 55,000.

The most recent U.S. Census data from 2022 estimates there are nearly 73,000 children aged five or younger in Travis County.

According to a news release issued by the Department of Labor earlier this year, the NDCB research highlights the urgent need for greater federal investments.

“There needs to be an influx of public dollars, whether that comes from the federal, state or local government — ideally, maybe a combination of all of those — but right now, we definitely didn’t see momentum in the Texas legislature on this issue. The state doesn’t significantly invest in child care, and the actual federal investments from economic recovery, those are about to end,” child advocate McHorse said.

The state does offer financial assistance based on income. To see if you qualify or to search the statewide portal for a list of child care availability, see the following resources:

Children at Risk, a research and advocacy organization, said Texas lost 21% of its child care providers from March 2020 to September 2021. Out of those closed, 41% served infants and toddlers. McHorse points to the pandemic as contributing to this, as staffing shortages made it harder for facilities to stay open.

Since leaving the workforce, Hubbard said she has embraced her calling as a full-time caregiver and decided to establish her own child care service named Morgann’s Corner to provide more child care options in Travis County.

“Our goal, that with Morgann’s Corner, is to be a service to help with traditional and non-traditional hours and be flexible. That way families can count on us when they’re in a pinch,” Hubbard said.

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