Is affordable child care accessible to all of the Connecticut towns? Are Connecticut towns close to providing an affordable rate for families? According to the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services, child care can not exceed 7% of a family’s median household income for it to be considered affordable. In Connecticut, that 7% threshold means that the median family, which earns $106,441, should spend no more than $7450 a year, or $143 weekly on child care.
But this 7% recommendation is infrequent in Connecticut towns especially when we compare it to low-income towns. For example, in Hartford, the median family spends around 26% of their income on child care. Our project uses resources like 211ChildCare which is a database that collects information on licensed child care programs in Connecticut towns, they report on pricing, types of care, location, etc. of child care programs. The data taken from 211ChildCare suggests that the majority of families in Connecticut spend more than the suggested percentage on child care. While almost all towns in Connecticut surpass this 7% suggestion, some towns use a much greater percentage of their median family income to go towards child care than other Connecticut towns.
Costs of child care in Connecticut towns are affecting families disproportionately, some towns spend a large portion of the median family income, while other towns spend a smaller portion of the median family income on child care. Recognizing the towns in which the cost of child care is high in comparison to their median family income is important to our community partners from the Middlesex Coalition for Children and the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance . The Middlesex Coalition for Children is an organization that advocates for the children of Middletown and Middlesex County and works towards improving the services offered to children within their community. The Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance is an organization whose mission is to provide opportunities for children through early education. This data story is relevant to our community partners because it directs attention to the towns that need more affordable child care education. By identifying towns that lack affordable child care our community partners can take the initiative in creating budgeting programs that work towards getting Connecticut towns closer to that 7% threshold.
To better understand child care costs across different towns in Connecticut, our data story asked what percentage of Connecticut towns’ median family income is going towards child care. Overall, we present these key findings: The five lowest median family income towns Hartford, Windham, New Haven, New London, and Bridgeport are spending a greater portion of their income on child care. The top five median family income towns Westport, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, and Greenwich, typically spend a lower percentage of their income on child care. As we see the discrepancies in the cost of child care between high and low-income towns, we also must acknowledge that only two Connecticut towns do not exceed the 7% threshold of child care.
The data tells us a lot about whether or not child care in Connecticut might be affordable or not. When looking at the data we can see that there is a big difference in terms of populations, child care centers, and median family income for the towns that have a greater percentage of their income used on child care. The towns with the lower median family incomes are the ones that are spending most of their income on childcare.
Figure 1 as seen above, shows the percent of average family income used on infant toddler child care in Connecticut Towns.
The map above shows the percentage of income spent on child care. This map tells a big part of the story because it shows which towns are meeting the reasonable expectation of the 7% of their median family income that should be spent on childcare. It is pretty evident from the map above that almost all of the towns in Connecticut do not have affordable childcare based on the median family income data.
Figure 2 as seen above, the table shows the yearly median rate of infant-toddler child care in comparison to the median family income in all Connecticut towns.
The top five towns that spend the lowest percentage of their income on child care are towns with higher median family incomes. New Cannan, Darien, Essex, Ashford, and Tolland all have an income that exceeds the median family income of Connecticut which is $106,441. When we compare this to the top five towns that spend the greatest percentage on child care, Hartford, Brideport, New Haven, New Britain, and Waterbury, these towns have incomes that are below Connecticut's median family income. When we look at New Canaan, the town that spends the lowest percentage of around 4% of their median family income on child care, and we look at Hartford, the town that spends the largest percentage of about 26% of their income on child care, there is a vast difference in what these two towns earn. New Canaan's median family earns $250,001 a year and Hartford's median family earns $44,859. This data suggests that child care is less of a burden for towns in higher-income neighborhoods. Although there is a difference between the high and low-income towns in terms of the cost of child care, only two towns do not exceed the recommended 7%: Darien and New Canaan. This tells us that the majority of Connecticut towns do not have affordable child care.
Since child care is exceeding the 7% threshold for so many towns in Connecticut it is important to discuss income left over after child care. As child care becomes a more costly expense it leaves families with less income left over for other expenses. Disposable income, which is the income remaining after paying for essential expenses, is very important in a family’s budget, it offers households the ability to save money. The towns that are paying large parts of their income towards child care do not have much left over if they have other expenses like rent, utilities, or groceries. Having large portions of income go to child care puts households in a very tight financial budget and prevents families from accruing savings over time.
Our cleaned-up data sheet of 211ChildCare data provided to us by our instructor, Jack Dougherty, clarifies the types of providers, the towns in which the providers are located, and the infant-toddler and preschool weekly uniform rate. When we began working on this project, our initial goal was to find the percentage each town spent on child care based on their median family income. With our cleaned-up data, we were able to create pivot tables in Google Sheets that showed the median weekly rate of infant-toddler child care in each town.
Once we created the pivot table we had to paste this information on a different tab with the median family income so that we could begin to compare how much each town spends towards child care. Within this new tab, we retrieved the median family income, which was data provided by Social Explorer, by using a vlookup formula to match median family income with the correct town.
When all the data was put into the tab on Google Sheets we then began the process of normalizing the data. This included converting the median weekly rate into a yearly unit which was done by multiplying each weekly value by 52. Once we changed the weekly rate for infant and toddler care to a yearly amount, we could then calculate the percent of income spent on child care, which was calculated by dividing the median yearly cost of infant-toddler child care by the median family income. These calculations were then used to create our map and table in Datawrapper.
One uncertainty that arose while we were creating a pivot table that looked at the childcare providers in each town was that there were no recorded childcare providers in six of the Connecticut towns. This is not to say that 211ChildCare did not collect data from this town but that the town does not have childcare providers to collect data from. Although there may be no childcare provider for a town, there are still children within that town who need child care. A big uncertainty with our data as a whole is that it doesn’t account for people who take their child to a different town for child care. Let’s say a person who lives in Hartford has been taking their child to a daycare center in West Hartford; this wouldn’t be accounted for in our data for West Hartford because they live in Hartford. This means that the percentage of income spent on child care in a particular town may not accurately reflect the affordability of a family’s child care expenses living within that town.
“About: Middlesex-Children.” Middlesex, www.middlesexchildren.org/abouts-us. Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.
(2) Dougherty, Jack, and Ilya Ilyankou. Hands-on Data Visualization: Interactive Storytelling from Spreadsheets to Code. O’Reilly, 2021.
(3) Earlychildhoodalliance.Com, earlychildhoodalliance.com/. Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.
(4) Social Explorer, www.socialexplorer.com/reports/socialexplorer/en/report/1319b016-83da-11ee-9524-ab0079a77509. Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.
(5) “The Federal Register.” Federal Register :: Request Access, www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/09/30/2016-22986/child-care-and-development-fund-ccdf-program. Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.