The price of working

Single mom Katie Diffay has spent the past four years working and going to school to provide for her two young children, but with so much of her income going towards paying for child care she feels like she’ll never get ahead.

“My co-pay for child care is $320 (per month),” says Diffay, who receives financial assistance to help defray the cost."That’s taking away a big chunk of my income.”

Diffay isn’t alone. A recent study by Illinois Action for Children shows many working parents are paying more for child care than what they can expect to pay for their child’s college tuition. And there’s little in the way of assistance for many families who are finding that an average of 17 percent of their income is going to pay for child care for just one child. Add another child into the mix and that amount can average 32 percent of a parent’s income.

For a family that’s making $40,000 a year, with licensed home care at about $200 per week, they’re spending about 20 percent of their income on childcare, says Peter Gray, communications and marketing project manager for Illinois Action for Children."The average family in Cook (County) makes about $54,000 per year, so this is not just a problem for low-income (families) but an issue for all of us.”

And the cost of child care in Chicago and the suburbs is rising faster than consumer prices nationally. While consumer prices have risen 21 percent since 2000, center rates in this area have seen increases of between 26 and 43 percent. Before and after-school care rates have increased by 43-51 percent.

Gray hopes the recent report inspires more people and organizations to offer additional help to working parents."We want to make sure this is a conversation people have when they think about what we need to do to keep a productive work force and care for our children,” Gray says."It’s something that’s really under the radar. People realize housing costs are an issue, but it’s the same amount for child care.”

For help with child care issues, Illinois Action for Children can provide referrals and information on financial assistance. Call (312) 823-1100 or

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