Why Are the People Entrusted With Our Kids Paid So Little?

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Child care costs can seem exorbitant to parents, but many child care workers earn so little they live in poverty themselves. What gives?

Child care workers serve a vital role in the early education and development of children. It’s no doubt an important job, but you wouldn’t guess that if you took a look at how much child care workers are paid in the United States.

Child care professionals, including nannies, day care workers and preschool teachers, are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. In fact, about 1 in 7 child care workers lives in poverty, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.

On average, child care workers, who are almost all (95.6 percent) women and are disproportionately workers of color, were paid $10.31 an hour in 2014, which is nearly 40 percent less than the $17 hourly wage earned by the average American worker. They also rarely receive job-based benefits like health insurance or a retirement fund.

With pay so low, it’s not surprising that nearly 15 percent of child care workers live in poverty, which is more than twice the rate (6.7 percent) for other workers in the United States.

“Most child care workers do not have incomes high enough to make ends meet,” the report reveals.

Meanwhile, parents pay a lot of money for child care. Another recent EPI report found that the cost of child care is prohibitively expensive for some Americans, even exceeding the cost of college tuition in many states. Ironically, EPI found that most child care workers cannot afford child care for their own kids.

So where does the money paid for child care go if it’s not the pockets of the workers?

According to The Atlantic, high quality child care is dependent on low child-to-staff ratios, especially for infants and toddlers.

That makes it especially difficult to increase the productivity of the child care model. Looking at it from a purely economic perspective, the solution would be to increase the number of children in each facility, while keeping staff levels the same. But “that conflicts directly with the desire to provide high quality care,” [EPI senior economist and study author Elise] Gould says.

Child care facility operators told The Atlantic that after paying for salaries, food, educational resources and other government-mandated expenses, plus the typical business expenses (rent, phone, Internet, utilities), there isn’t much money left for wage increases.

Is there a solution to the child care dilemma?

“Gould suggests that child care services are the perfect opportunity for government intervention in the form of universal pre-K, income-based subsidies, or other solutions that would simultaneously make child care affordable for everyone and increase the resources available for paying — and raising — worker wages,” said The Atlantic.

During the workweek, my 2-year-old son goes to a family-based day care in the mornings. I pay about $500 per month for his child care. When both of my kids were in day care at the same time, child care really made a dent in our checking account.

But I think my child care provider is affordable, especially when I compare her rates to what some of my friends are charged elsewhere. (Editor’s note: When our children were an infant and a 3-year-old, we paid about $2,700 a month for their care at a nice — but not exclusive — child care facility in the Seattle area. Yikes!)

What do you think of the pay child care workers receive? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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