California Families Face a Child Care Crunch (Part 2): A Closer Look at Availability and Cost

Availability of Licensed Child Care Spaces for California Children Ages 0 to 12
With Working Parents: 2021

Pie chart showing, among California children ages 0-12 with parents in the labor force, the share with and without an available licensed child care space in 2021.

The second in our two-part series on child care and early education explores program availability, access, and cost across California communities.

Between 2019 and 2021, California lost more than 1,100 licensed child care facilities and nearly 19,000 licensed spaces—more spaces than the total number of children in Mendocino or 20 other California counties.

KidsData analyzed 2021 child care supply data in conjunction with labor force estimates and found that licensed spaces were available for around one in four children ages 0 to 12 with working parents, statewide. This figure did not drop relative to 2019, despite the overall decline in licensed child care supply. At the local level, wide variation exists in access to licensed child care, with availability in some counties lower than one space for every seven children in 2021.

Even when spaces are available, the cost can be prohibitive for many families. In 2021, median county-level costs for full-time licensed infant care ranged from $13,600 to $22,900 annually in child care centers and from $10,100 to $19,700 in family child care homes. Care for children ages 2 to 5 was less expensive, but still as high as $19,600 in centers and $18,000 in child care homes.

Enrollment in pre-primary education programs, which provide alternatives to child care for children of preschool or kindergarten age, declined in tandem with licensed child care supply. In 2021, an estimated 51% of California children ages 3 to 5 were enrolled in preschool or kindergarten, down from pre-pandemic levels of more than 60%. Some regions face challenges across multiple early childhood systems—the Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino had preschool or kindergarten enrollment rates lower than 42%, and licensed child care availability lower than 15%, in 2021.

Read more about strategies to build a comprehensive, high-quality early care and education system that is accessible and affordable for all families.

KidsData in the News

Americans Are Having Fewer Children. Is That a Problem?

KidsData’s Beth Jarosz is featured in an LX News piece on the economic and social implications of declining U.S. birth rates.

Children’s Health Resources

New Childcare Data Shows Prices Are Untenable for Families

Child care consumes a large share of family income among those who pay for services—between 8% and 19.3% of median family income per child—according to a U.S. Department of Labor blog.

New Reports Describe California’s Early Intervention System for Infants and Toddlers

The California Budget and Policy Center, supported by First 5 Center for Children’s Policy, recently released reports on early intervention services available through California’s Early Start program, and recommendations for how the program can better support young children with disabilities or developmental delays.


Elevate Youth California Supporting Capacity Building for Community Organizations

Grants up to $400,000 are available in support of community-based programs and practices for substance use disorder prevention among youth ages 12 to 26. Applications are due February 20.

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