Common Good Iowa

Kids Count: Iowa 6th in child well-being, but child care a challenge

Posted on June 14, 2023 at 12:01 AM by Anne Discher

PDF of Iowa data profile

PDF of news release

Iowa retains high rank on child well-being, but inaccessible, unaffordable child care pushes parents to the breaking point 

Iowa ranks 6th among the states in child well-being, according to the 2023 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how children and families are faring. Common Good Iowa is a member of the KIDS COUNT network.

Despite a high rank relative to other states, Iowa’s children and families face significant challenges. Big among them is the lack of affordable and accessible child care, which short-changes children and causes parents to frequently miss work or even quit their jobs, while those who can find care pay dearly for it. These child care challenges cost the American economy billions of dollars a year and stymie women professionally.

The Data Book reports too many parents cannot secure child care that is compatible with their work schedules and commutes. In 2020-21,14% of Iowa children ages birth to 5 had a family member who quit, changed or refused a job because of problems with child care, compared with 13% nationwide. U.S. women are five to eight times more likely than men to experience negative employment consequences related to caregiving.

Even if Iowa parents can find an opening at child care near their home, they often can’t pay for it, facing costs that rival tuition at state universities and community colleges.

Cost of child care for toddlers by type, Iowa (2021)


Annual cost

Cost as percent of median income, married couple

Cost as percent of median income, single mother    

Center-based care




Home-based care




As families are burdened by the cost of care, child care workers — often parents themselves — are paid worse than workers in 98% of professions. Median national pay for child care workers was just $13.71 an hour in 2022, less than the wage for retail ($14.26) and customer service workers ($18.16). In Iowa, the median hourly wage for child care workers was even worse: just $10.99.

The failings of the child care market harm the current and future health of our economy, costing Iowa $1.1 billion a year in lost earnings, productivity and tax revenue, according to one study. These challenges put parents under tremendous stress to meet the dual responsibilities of providing for their families and ensuring their children are safe and nurtured.

Each year, the Data Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains and ranks the states according to how children are faring. Here are Iowa’s domain rankings:

  •      Economic well-being: 3

  •      Education: 9

  •      Health: 11

  •      Family and community: 9

Iowa ranks first — best — on two indicators: on-time high school graduation rate and the share of children living in households with high housing costs. Iowa’s worst rankings: teen birth rate (23rd), share of 3- and 4-year-olds attending preschool (25th), and share of 10- to 17-year-olds who are overweight or obese (29th).

Tracking data like these is crucial because the policy choices we make undergird the well-being of our children. If we made the choice, say, to invest in affordable, accessible child care, it would help our communities — and ultimately measures of child well-being — across the board. Kids would receive the positive early experiences they need to develop, parents would have the chance to pursue family-supporting careers and our economy would get the workers it needs to reach its full potential.

The gap between what parents can afford to pay and the true cost of quality care begs for a collective response. Federal, state and local governments should invest more in child care to help families access affordable, quality care and pay providers fairly. State and local governments in Iowa should maximize remaining pandemic recovery act dollars to expand child care capacity, and the state should continue to expand access to Child Care Assistance, building on improvements made during the recent legislative session.


Anne Discher is executive director of Common Good Iowa.

Tagged As: child care, Kids Count

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