More than a year's worth of in-state tuition, and more than a quarter of the average family's income, is the cost of full-time child care in New Jersey, according to figures released by nonpartisan think tank New America.

Playing with children (NiDerLander, ThinkStock)
NiDerLander, ThinkStock

Averaging at-home and in-center pricing, the group's Care Index calculated New Jersey's cost of child care at $17,868 annually.

"$17,000 is a lot to be paying for child care," said co-author Alieza Durana, senior policy analyst with New America. "It's a big portion of a family's budget."

The analysis found child care costs can consume more than a quarter of New Jersey's median household income, based on Census figures, and the average cost of in-state tuition is thousands less.

And for individuals earning minimum wage in New Jersey, the report noted, child care under the age of 5 is financially impossible when living off one income.

New Jersey scored well for availability of care - the proportion of caregivers to the number of children under 5 who may need care.

As executive director of Monmouth Daycare Center in Red Bank, a private nonprofit, Heidi Zaentz is amazed families manage to both work and send their children to child care. The center targets families who can't afford standard options for care during the week.

"The majority of our families are struggling to make ends meet but they want to work; they don't want to be unemployed," Zaentz said. "So they're either going to school to better themselves or working."

A lot of families, she added, are unfortunately thinking about expenses first when choosing child care and not the quality of the program.

On a national level, according to New America, the average cost of child care is $16,514 - 31 percent of the median household income.

"Parents are very clearly struggling to find high quality, affordable, accessible care, and caregivers are still making poverty wages," Durana said. "The real important takeaway is that care isn't working anywhere for anyone."

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