And you thought the cost of college tuition was bad. Even as college costs continue to rise, it turns out the greatest expense facing parents may be basic child care.

Parents in the majority of states last year paid more to leave their infant at a day care center than they would have paid for the child attend a public college or university, according to a recent report by Child Care Aware of America. The annual cost to provide center-based child care (as opposed to in-home child care) to an infant and a 4-year-old child rose by 2 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.

The expense of child care is inescapable for parents who don't have anywhere else to leave their children while at work. Yet more and more low-income working parents are unable to meet their child care obligations and many quit their jobs or lose them because of unplanned absences, leading to increased dependency on welfare programs, The Huffington Post's Peter Goodman reported in April.

For single parents living in states at the higher end of the cost spectrum, child care is simply unaffordable. The average single mother of an infant in New York, Minnesota and Massachusetts would have to pay more than half of her income for day care at a center, according to the report.

Last year, the average cost of infant care was higher than $10,000 per year in 19 states and Washington, D.C. Infant care was as high as $15,000 in Massachusetts, and before- and after-school programs for school-age children cost $11,000 on average in New York.

In some states, the child care costs were so high that they exceeded all other basic living expenses, including rent. Here are six major things that are cheaper than child care:

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  • Public College Education

    Last year, the cost for infant care at a center exceeded the annual tuition and fees to attend a public college in 35 states and D.C. The annual bill for providing care to a 4-year-old was higher than the yearly cost of public college in 19 states and D.C., <a href="" target="_hplink">according to the report by Child Care Aware of America.</a>

  • Rent

    The cost of center-based care for one child was higher than the annual median rent in 22 states and D.C., and the expense of child care for two children exceeded the cost of rent in all states, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to the report by Child Care Aware of America.</a>

  • Groceries For Two Four-Person Families

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Census data released this year</a> showed that food consumed at home cost $5,187 in 2009 for the average family of four. That means the average annual grocery budget of two four-person families combined would cost less than annual child care costs in some states.

  • Electric Bills For Eight Housholds

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><em>USA Today</em> parsed government data</a> to find that the average household paid a record-breaking $1,419 for electricity in 2010. Annual infant care in Massachusetts last year was still more than eight times that amount.

  • More Than Five Years Worth Of Gas

    At a price of $3.80 per gallon, <a href="" target="_hplink">the average American</a> spends about $2,120.40 at the pump every year. Paying for gas over the last five years would have cost a person less than a year's worth of infant care in Massachusetts.

  • A New Car

    At its $9,900 suggested retail price, a new <a href="" target="_hplink">Nissan Versa</a> is cheaper than the annual cost of infant care in 19 states and D.C.

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