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Updated Nov 19, 2013 - 11:56 am

Study: Arizona is among least-affordable for child care

PHOENIX -- Arizona is the seventh-least-affordable state for before-school/after-school child care, according to a study by a national advocacy group.

On average, such care cost an Arizona family $6,198 in 2012, according to Arlington, Va.-based Child Care Aware of America. The group measured the average cost against median income for a married couple -- $70,149 in Arizona - to develop its rankings.

Only New York, Hawaii, Wyoming, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Arkansas were less affordable than Arizona, which tied with Kansas in the group's study.

The study also reported that infant care in Arizona, an area in which the state ranked as 16th least affordable, is only 10 percent cheaper than tuition at a public university here: $8,671 for infant care versus $9,729 in average annual tuition.

Arizona ranked 13th-least-affordable in child care for a 4-year-old, averaging $7,398.

Liz Barker Alvarez, senior director of communications for the state-funded education organization First Things First, said that without affordable access to quality early learning and child care children may suffer socially and academically.

Quality child care at a young age helps children build skills that are crucial for their success in school and life, she said.

"It really helps them build their soft skills, like self-esteem, self-regulation and decision-making," she said.

Penelope Jacks, director of early childhood policy for the Children's Action Alliance Arizona, said that the cost of child care is one of the biggest burdens on families.

"By making child care so expensive that people can't afford it, it means that children are either going to very poor quality centers or they are not going at all and in either case they're not getting the academic boost they need," she said.

Jacks said that the cost of child care has become increasingly prohibitive since 2009, when the Legislature made deep cuts to Arizona Department of Economic Security's subsidies for child care.

DES reported that the number of children receiving child care subsidies was down 50 percent from 47,416 in January 2009 to 23,501 in August of this year.

As of Nov. 8, there were 6,435 children on the waiting list for DES child care subsidies.

The number of low-income working families receiving child care subsidies fell from 29,006 in January 2009 to 7,442 in August, DES reported.

Jacks said this is particularly worrisome because it pulls people out of the workforce.

"If you have two children who require child care and both parents are working minimum wage, there's no way that they can afford to pay for child care. One of the parents has to stay home. They simply cannot afford to go to work," she said.

Erin Raden, executive director of the Arizona Child Care Association, said that her organization is working to encourage the state Legislature to restore funding for the DES child care subsidy program.

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