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Report: In King County, Childcare Could Cost A Single Mother Half Her Income

AP Photo
S.C. Johnson Wax

Childcare costs in King County are among the highest in the nation, according to a recently-released analysis.

The report shows King County's costs are high even by the standards of Washington state, one of the ten least-affordable states for childcare. Someone earning the median income for single mothers in King County could sink more than half of her salary into the $17,300 average annual cost for infant childcare — a cost already $5,000 higher than the state average.

Advocates at Puget Sound Sage, an equity policy think tank, authored the analysis, arguing state and local government ought to increase subsidies that help parents access childcare.

But they also contend early educators' wages need a boost, too, since the high turnover rate among childcare workers compromises the quality of care and creates more hidden costs for employers trying to recruit and hire replacements.

The report frames a choice for Seattle voters who will have to decide between two competing early childhood education measures set on the November ballot.

The city-endorsed Proposition 1B raises property taxes to cover preschool tuition for up to 2,000 low-income kids, but is smaller in scale and scope than city officials originally-envisioned. The union-backed Proposition 1A, also known as Initiative 107, would hike childcare workers' wages while aiming to curtail costs to parents, but offers no funding source.

Voters can only support one measure or the other. But Puget Sound Sage policy director Nicole Vallestero Keenan says, in an "ideal world," voters would be able to support both.

"You can't just raise wages for early childhood educators when parents can barely afford to pay for that care. We have to both address wages as well as the quality and the price of early childhood education," said Vallestero Keenan, who also wrote the group's childcare costs report.

If voters could approve both propositions, she added, "you could both address wages and make sure the city is starting to take initial steps to providing universal pre-K. We'll see what happens."

A recent city-funded survey showed one-third of Seattle parents enroll their children in preschool full-time. Half of respondents reported their kids were in preschool part-time. Only 16 percent of parents reported not having their children enrolled in early childhood education at all.

But if access isn't as widespread an issue, even more well-off families still face the hurdle of cost. A two-parent household earning the median $116,000 a year would still spend, according to the Sage report, between 10 and 15 percent of its annual income on childcare.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.