It is a frustrating fact that even as childcare costs soar so high they’ll give you vertigo, childcare workers are often making poverty wages. Which obviously isn’t helping improve the childcare provided.
According to NPR, average pay for childcare workers nationally works out to less than $10 an hour; many have to turn to public assistance, or additional jobs, or both, and can’t afford the services they help provide. This bleak situation affects their charges, as well:
Specialists in early education say low pay doesn’t just hurt childcare workers. It has an effect on babies and toddlers, too, and poses a major challenge in creating high quality child care — something 71 percent of parents who rely on care from outside the family say they seek when choosing a program, according to a recent poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“We’re seeing a high turnover of [child care] teachers,” says Michele Rivest, executive director of the North Carolina Child Care Coalition. “We’re seeing the lowest enrollment in our community college programs for early education. And I think it’s all attributable to low wages.”
Not always easy to attract enough qualified, experienced employees in the first place, and the field’s annual turnover rate is as high as 30 percent.
Different groups are working on the problem from different angles, but it’s a real patchwork. Some childcare workers are participating in the fight for a $15 minimum wage. Some states are requiring more education, on the theory that that higher wages will follow—though when you’re starting from a low enough point, an extra dollar an hour only goes so far. The North Carolina Child Care Coalition is trying to get $10 million in state funding for bonuses to entice employees—“a modest supplement” according to Rivest, “that will get early education teachers closer to our public school kindergarten teachers.”
Clearly what is required is a broad national commitment to improving our system of early childhood education as a whole. Considering how calmly America has reacted to Obamacare, should be pretty straightforward, right?