In Chicago,middle class parents can expect to pay about $240,570 to raise a single child. Flickr/Sarah

And fully 17 percent said they consistently don't have enough to cover basic costs. 

Here’s news that won’t surprise any parents: Raising children is really expensive. According to recent Department of Agriculture projections, middle income U.S. parents who had a child in 2013 should expect to spend about $245,340 before she hits 18.

And parents raising children under the age of 18 in U.S. cities feel they have the worst of it, economically speaking, according to the Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll. Fully 54 percent of urban parents surveyed in our poll said they just meet or don’t even have enough to cover basic expenses. That’s compared to 38 percent of non-urban parents who said the same. Though many childless urban dwellers (44 percent) also said they struggle to fulfill their financial obligations, urban parents appear to having the hardest time: more than one in six (17 percent) said they don't have enough to meet their basic expenses.

Urban parents also responded less than favorably when asked to describe the overall costs of living in their communities. Less than 1 percent of urban parents described their cost of living as “not at all expensive.” Meanwhile, 4 percent of non-urban parents said their lives were “not at all expensive,” while 5 percent of both urban and non-urban respondents who do not have children said the same. 

The breakdown when comparing parents and non-parents across all types of geographical areas, however, was much more consistent, indicating that urban parents feel they’re shouldering unique burdens by living where they do. Seventy-one percent of U.S. parents overall said their lives are very or somewhat expensive, a fairly similar result to non-parents overall (69 percent). 

Nancy Rafada, a 55 year-old bank clerk and single mother of two, lives in Jacksonville, Florida, and says she just meets her basic expenses. “Living here is probably not that expensive unless you have kids,” she said in an interview. “Keeping kids busy when you’re working is really expensive.” Rafada signed her two daughters up for ballet lessons when they were children, “to keep them out of trouble.” Now, at 14 and 20, both have been dancing for ten years. “It’s expensive to pay for them to go to classes and summer intensives,” she said. “But that way, I don’t have to worry about them.”

Rafada’s experience is consistent with federal data. The USDA estimates that raising just one child in a husband-wife family costs $230,600 in the urban South, where Rafada lives. In the average urban area nationally (which includes suburban bedroom communities), the cost is even higher: $253,700. That’s a full 24 percent more than parents would pay to raise a child in a rural area, about $193,600. The graph below, taken from USDA’s most recent Child Expenditure report, shows that raising a child in an urban area in the United States is strikingly more expensive on a year-to-year basis, and that costs only rise as children get older.

USDA, Expenditures on Children by Families, 2013

A 2005 study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that, contrary to conventional wisdom, rural children five and below were about as likely to be in non-parental care for as many average hours per week as urban children. But rural children were more likely to be cared for by relatives, which is at least partially responsible for HHS’ final finding: Rural children's families make fewer out-of-pocket contributions toward the cost of their care. Thirty-one percent of urban children with employed mothers cost their families at least $100 per week in child care costs, compared to just 14 percent of rural children. 

HHS, from  data from the 2005 National Household Education Survey (NHES), Early Childhood Program Participation Survey (ECPP)

Reggie Dodson, a 32 year-old trucking business owner in Indianapolis, says that even though his family lives nearby, they don’t often watch his four children, all younger than 12. “Maybe here and there – but not much at all,” he said. “Everyone’s pretty busy.”


Like many of the results from our State of the City poll, this story reveals a racial disparity, as well. While just 7 percent of white parents said they didn't have enough to meet their basic expenses, a full one-fifth of minority parents said the same. These responses are also consistent with research. According to the Urban Institute, 58 percent of the 13.4 million families with children living on incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level are non-white. 

The Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,656 U.S. adults by telephone between July 23 and August 4. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. For more details on the poll's methodology, go here

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