In a majority of the U.S., the average parent pays almost as much for child care as they do for tuition at an in-state, public college.
In fact, the average family spends over $11,000 to utilize a child care center to watch their infant, about $10,000 for toddlers and over $9,000 for four-year-olds, according to Child Care Aware of America's 2019 report.
Overall, American parents with children under the age of five are forking over a total of $42 billion for early child care and education, such as preschool programs, according to a recent report from the progressive think tank Economic Policy Institute.
For most families, that's far and above what the Department of Health and Human Services deems "affordable child care," which they define as costing no more than 7% of a family's annual income.
Child care costs have also been growing twice as fast as overall inflation in the U.S since the 1990s. Because of that, several presidential candidates have rolled out proposals to address this burden on American families.
Here's where the top candidates stand and a quick outline of their plans, presented in alphabetical order.
Joe Biden, the former vice president under Barack Obama, is a proponent of universal pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year-olds. "As president, Biden will work with states to offer pre-K for all three- and four-year-olds," according to his campaign website. "This investment will ease the burden on our families, help close the achievement gap, promote the labor participation of parents who want to work and lift our critical early childhood education workforce out of poverty."
Biden has said nothing about supporting free child care for children under the age of three, and an email to his campaign asking about his plans to bring down the cost of available child care options went unanswered.
In an email from Mike Bloomberg's campaign, the former New York mayor promises if elected, he will "double federal funding for child care and early childhood education to help defray the high cost of care, improve quality and accessibility, and guarantee parents have the support they need to help their children thrive during the most critical years of brain development — from birth through age five."
Specifically, Bloomberg aims to provide universal access to full-day preschool for four-year-olds, making it free for low-income families and affordable to all households, the campaign said by email. Bloomberg's plan would triple the number of children served by Early Head Start, which provides care to low-income children under the age of three, in addition to expanding the program to reach more three- to-five-year olds.
He also wants to boost the percentage of families who receive child care subsidies through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) to "allow more low-income and middle-class parents to deduct the cost of child care expenses," according to the campaign.
Bloomberg stops short of guaranteeing free, universal pre-K and child care for children under the age of three.
Following in Elizabeth Warren's footsteps, Pete Buttigieg released a child care plan in November that proposed spending $700 billion over the next decade on child care and education. Similar to Senator Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) February 2019 plan, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind. promises if elected, he'll work to provide free universal full-day child care and pre-K for all children from infancy to age five for lower-income families and affordable for all U.S. parents.
Unlike Warren's plan to create state-run child care centers, Buttigieg wants to give parents choice and plans to utilize a mix of Head Start programs, local public programs, various private centers or a high-quality home-based program that suits their needs. He also plans to "unify existing funding streams to finance a major new universal subsidy program," according to the campaign, as well as strengthen and expand existing programs, such as Head Start and Early Head Start.
Buttigieg also wants to ensure that no family pay more than the HHS affordable metric of 7% of Americans' income for child care.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) supports "access to quality preschool by working with states on programs to ensure access to preschool for three- and four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families," according to her campaign site. However, she stops short of endorsing a national free universal pre-K program.
Klobuchar's plan proposes capping household child care spending to 7% for families making up to 150% of their state's median income. Her plan also calls for additional grants to states to expand the options and affordability of child care.
To support her child care plan, Klobuchar would raise the corporate tax rate one additional point to 28% and incorporate other corporate tax reforms.
Throughout the 2020 campaign, Sanders has supported universal pre-K starting at age three, but Sanders released a far broader vision for child care on Monday.
Under the $1.5 trillion proposed plan, the government would provide "free full-day, full-week, high-quality child care from infancy through age three, regardless of income." Sander's proposed system of free early child care facilities would be run by state agencies and tribal governments, offering at least 10 hours a day of supervision.
To pay for his "free child care and pre-K for all" plan, Sanders plans to tax those with "extreme wealth" over $32 million, which would raise about $4.35 trillion over 10 years.
"President Trump has done more for working parents than any president in modern history," Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary, told CNBC Make It in an email. She pointed out that President Trump has proposed increasing funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant by over $2 billion and has doubled the child tax credit, among other policy proposals aimed at empowering families.
In February, the White House earmarked $1 billion in a proposed $4.8 trillion budget for 2021 toward a one-time investment to build out a more robust supply of child care options, including programs sponsored by employers. He also proposed a $1 billion investment in the 2020 budget as well. Trump's 2021 budget also maintained funding for Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant at HHS.
That said, President Trump has not indicated any support for free universal pre-K or full-day child care.
Warren introduced her Universal Child Care and Early Learning plan last February that aimed to spend $700 billion over 10 years to create federally funded, but locally run child care centers nationwide that offer free child care for those who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level. For those earning more, her plan calls for capping spending on child care at 7% of Americans' annual household income.
The entire cost of Warren's child care proposal will be covered by her proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax that would be levied against those with net worths above $50 million. This tax is expected to generate $3.75 trillion in new revenue over 10 years.