Child care unaffordable for more Californians, new analysis shows

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Paying for preschool and infant care is now so expensive that, in California, it could take a minimum wage worker from January until June to earn enough to cover a 4-year-old’s full-time preschool fees for one year, a new report finds.

The analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) concludes that child care is out of reach for most low-wage families. 

Preschool for a 4-year-old in California costs about $8,000 annually. That child care expense would eat up 44 percent of the $18,720 earned annually by a full-time, minimum wage worker. 

The report points out that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that child care cost no more than 10 percent of a family’s income. But according to the EPI analysis, nowhere in the United States does infant care or child care for a 4-year-old cost less than 30 percent of a minimum-wage worker’s annual wages.

Last year, research by Child Trends, a nonpartisan research institute, found that spending on child welfare had declined in most states. With less help for poor families, the percentage of the family budget for rent, food and other basic expenses may push child care down the priority list.

In California, preschool advocates are waiting to see if Gov. Jerry Brown will sign AB-47, a bill that would provide all eligible, low-income 4-year-olds not in transitional kindergarten with access to state preschool. He has until Sunday to decide on the measure.

AB-47 , called the "Preschool For All Act," has a broad slate of education advocates behind it, including Early Edge California, a non-partisan group that advocates for more preschool. School districts supporting the bill include Los Angeles Unified and Compton Unified, and Los Angeles Universal Preschool.

The bill aims to provide free or subsidized preschool all children whose parents may not be able to afford market rates. Currently 32,000 low-income children across California are not in preschool.

The bill does not have a budget appropriation attached. Instead, each year, lawmakers would be asked to approve funds, estimated at about $300 million.

Opponents have cited the cost of the measure in urging its defeat. 

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