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The financial pain of America’s urban families

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Urban living has been on the rise, thanks to lower crime rates in many cities and the desire to cut back on commuting. 

The trade-off can mean higher rents and other costs. But just how much more are families paying to live in urban areas versus the suburbs? Based on two expenses alone that most families pay -- housing and child care -- urban households are shelling out an average of more than $9,000 per year than their suburban counterparts, according to and Zillow

The higher costs of city living underscore the need for young professionals and families to consider the expense of child care, which typically isn’t on their radar until they’re about to have their first child, said Joyce Hodel, a data scientist at On top of higher housing prices, the cost of child care may strain the budgets of urban families, especially in cities such as San Francisco, where the report estimates families pay more than $32,000 a year for child care. 

Trump's child care plan 05:02

“We encourage families to think about child care expenses early and do their research,” Hodel said. “They tend to wait until the last minute when they’re getting close to the birth before they consider how much it might cost.”

While moving is a personal decision based on a number of factors, including commute time and quality of live, Hodel noted that child care in cities is generally more expensive than the suburbs because preschools need to pay for their rent and labor, which also tends to be more expensive than in suburbia. 

“One of the takeaways we see is that child care can be almost as much as your cost of housing, or even more than that,” she added. Even so, Americans tend to overlook child are expenses when considering where to live, she added. 

The high cost of child care has been blamed for the declining participation of women in the workforce -- about 70 percent now compared with 74 percent in 2000. During the same period, that percentage in developed countries such as Germany and Japan has increased and now stands above the U.S. rate. 

When college tuition is cheaper in 31 states than child care costs, families are having tough debates about how best to handle the expense. At the same time, wages for many middle-class Americans have stagnated since the recession, while child care costs and other expenses keep climbing. 

The income needed to pay rent in the biggest U.S. cities
The income needed to pay rent in the biggest U.S. cities

That’s prompting some policymakers to promote programs that would help working families handle the cost of child care. President Donald Trump campaigned on a platform of making child care “accessible and affordable,” although his plan has been criticized as mainly helping affluent families while snubbing low- and middle-income families. 

Married families that earn more than $225,000 annually and have weekly child care costs would save $5,500 under his plan, the greatest tax savings of any group, estimated. 

“Child care is an important factor to growing the economy,” Hodel said. 

So where is it most expensive to choose city life over suburbia? It may be no surprise that New York City offers the worst deal for urban families, bearing annual costs that are $71,237 higher than their suburban counterparts. Much of the difference comes down to higher housing costs, rather than child care costs. 

Chicago was the second-most expensive for city families, at $18,472 in higher housing and childcare costs, followed by Dallas, at $14,128. 

On the flip side, some cities are cheaper to live in than their suburban neighborhoods. Philadelphia offers the best bargain, with urban living requiring $13,849 less than suburbia. Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Las Vegas are also cheaper for urban families than suburbanites. Issues with crime or quality of life in some of areas of those cities could push housing costs lower than in suburbia. 

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