Saturday, November 1, 2008

Shouldn't We Raise Wages for Child Care Workers?

An op-ed published in the Delaware News Journal recently highlighted the appalling crisis of low wages for child care workers.

...Early-care programs have significant difficulty finding any worker to take positions -- and even more difficulty finding qualified workers willing to accept the salaries the market offers. Child-care workers' average wage in 2007 was $9.92 per hour. The starting wage is $7.72 per hour.

The average 2007 wages for a Delaware hairdresser was $13.08. School crossing guards made $12.23 and tire repair workers earned $11.35.

Many early-care workers' incomes meet the federal poverty guidelines for families.

Given new job requirements and low wages, we have heard many early-childhood professionals now counseling their own children and friends to choose other work than early education.

It is also unrealistic to expect the early-care and education centers themselves -- particularly those that serve the neediest children -- to increase salaries without a major cultural and policy shift that places more value on nurturing the development of children and a dramatic change in the state's purchase-of-care subsidies for low-income families...

[K]eeping current teachers and attracting new qualified teachers will not be possible if this issue is not addressed. Otherwise, the weight of the increasing number of initiatives mandating higher standards will only collapse a fragile and inadequate care and educational system for young children.

The Drive for Decent Work, the National Jobs for All Coalition's program for creating jobs through public investment, includes child care as a prominent part of our program. We'd like to see the federal government dramatically increase block grants for child care, and raise wages of workers.

As we've pointed out:
...Expanded public investment in child care makes good economic sense and helps pay for itself over the long run... A study of child care in New York State has found that each federal dollar spent generates more than $2 in local economic activity. Each job created by increased local demand for child care generates nearly 1.3 jobs in the broader state economy, and each additional job created by an increase in external demand for child care generates 1.5 jobs.

In Kentucky, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development has published a new report documenting the struggles of local child care providers.
“There isn’t enough money in childcare around here to sustain it as a quality business,” says Bonita Adams, Co-Director of the Appalachian Early Childhood Development Center in Whitesburg. “They want to bring manufacturing and development to our area, but you have to have quality child care to support the families who need those jobs. The children need a loving and nurturing environment that will lay the foundation for their future success,” says Adams.

“The reality of the economy in eastern Kentucky today means most parents can’t afford full-price tuition and the state subsidy isn’t sufficient to cover the full cost of care,” says Justin Maxson, MACED President. “It is a no-win situation that must be addressed.”

The report indicates that investments in the child care industry pay dividends in increased productivity and improved quality of life, but child care providers in rural Appalachian Kentucky face significant market barriers to providing high-quality care...

In the distressed counties of Appalachian Kentucky, where more than 30 percent of the population lives in poverty, many child care centers are not financially sustainable.

According to the report, which is available online in PDF format:

Estimates suggest that for each dollar spent on quality early childhood education and care, the public saves between $2 and $17 in future spending on education, welfare, social services and crime (Barnett 1996; RAND 2005; Prichard Committee 2007; Warner et al. 2004).

Bottom line -- the private sector acting on its own is simply not going to solve this problem. The US needs much more public investment in child care, to support parents who work and go to school. Such a policy would promote a better quality of life for kids, parents and teachers, and help ensure long-term economic growth for all.

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Loren Gustafson said...

Most child care workers do not have employer-provided health care (though many have it through a spouse's benefits from another job). Addressing this issue might be a good place to start working on the larger issue of inadequate support for child care workers.

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