Costs – child care vs college

day care vs college costsI spotted the graphic at the right in the Washington Post last week.

My first thought was that this was two dimensional data being shown in a one dimensional graphic. The differences shown are the product a very separate economic factors. Day care costs are very likely linked to local cost of living factors and state regulations. College costs one the other hand a more closely tied to how each state chooses to subsidize the education of their residents and how they charge for out of state students.

My second line of thought went down the path of why compare the two costs. They occur at different times in the life cycle of a family. The child care costs usually kick in early on, while college costs kick in 15 or so years later. By that time the family income should be somewhat higher due to things such as career advancement.

The data in the graphic came from a report by the Child Care Aware. They can be characterized as an advocacy group for affordable quality child care.

Part of the groups advocacy seems to be to make child care look at expensive as possible in their comparisons. The data in the graphic apparently came frim Appendix 6 of the report. The child care costs in the comparison are those for full time care infants in center. It is hard to imagine picking a more expensive choice. Meanwhile the college costs are for those as a public college. Those are of course on the low end of scale of costs for a college education. Following the link provided in the report the college numbers are for instate tuition and fees for four-year colleges. So they conveniently did not include the full cost of a college education. They left out the major cost or room and board – or the equivalent cost if the student lives off campus. This makes the child care cost seem large in comparison the the college costs.

It is worth pursuing some of the other tables in the report to see how they treat the data. In Appendix 4 they compare average costs of care for school age care in a center to the median income for a single mother. What does it mean to compare a mean to a median? Without knowledge of the distributions of the two variables it is hard to say. Is the mean cost anywhere near the median cost. How many single mothers are using a center for child care vs other less expensive options? And I though we had gotten past the single mother to a single parent concept sometime ago.

Likely the group feels they met the goal of showing that child care costs are high. But don’t we already know that? The real question are the costs “reasonable” given the service supplied?

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