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Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact: Are child care costs higher than tuition?

The statement

"In 31 states, decent child care costs more than college tuition."

President Barack Obama, in a speech June 23

The ruling

We tracked down the source of the claim: a 2013 report by Child Care Aware of America, which describes itself as the "nation's leading voice for child care."

After surveying child care providers in all 50 states, the report concludes that "in 2012, in 31 states and the District of Columbia, the average annual cost for an infant in center-based care was higher than a year's tuition and fees at a four-year public college." Among the 50 states, the costs for infant care in center-based care ranged from $5,467 in Alabama to $16,430 in Massachusetts. Tuition and fees ranged from $4,278 in Wyoming to $14,576 in New Hampshire.

That seems pretty close to what Obama said.

It's worth noting some clarifying language in the report — "for an infant in center-based care" — that is absent from Obama's statement. This is actually the highest-cost example of the four cases the report looked at.

If you look at the cost for a 4-year-old in center-based care — rather than an infant — it costs more than in-state college tuition and fees in 19 states. That's 39 percent fewer states compared with statistics for infant care.

The report also looked at costs for home-based care, which is often a less-expensive option for parents. For infants, the cost of home-based care is higher than college costs in 14 states. That's a 55 percent reduction in states compared to Obama's 31.

And for 4-year-olds, the cost of home-based care is higher than college in 10 states. That's a 68 percent reduction in states compared with Obama's 31.

So Obama chose the most dramatic number of the four presented by the report — a bit of cherry picking.

It's also worth noting that Obama's claim doesn't factor in tax credits and federal assistance for child care.

For instance, according to the child care group's study, "about 2.6 million children received federal subsidies through one of several funding sources including the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Social Services Block Grant. Additional public funding that supports early care/education is allocated for programs such as child welfare initiatives and special education."

In addition, the report said, "parents and businesses can take advantage of tax credits for supporting child care, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and Dependent Care Assistance Programs."

All of these would reduce the cost of child care for many families. Of course, there are also tax credits and federal grants on the college side of the equation, and it's possible the benefits for college are more significant than those for child care. Still, because we don't know the impact of discounts either for child care or college costs, it adds another layer of uncertainty into Obama's seemingly crisp summary.

On balance, we rate the claim Mostly True.

Louis Jacobson, Times staff writer

Edited for print. Read the full version at

PolitiFact: Are child care costs higher than tuition? 07/03/14 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2014 2:31pm]
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