Child Care Worker Research Reveals Disturbing Pay Data

Article excerpt

N.Y. Times News Service

If wages are any indication of the esteem in which a person's labor is held, consider the following fact, culled from the pages of the federal government's Occupational Outlook Handbook: People who take care of zoo animals make on average nearly $2,500 a year more than most of the people who take care of human animals in child care centers.

Should it gall a child care worker that a python is thought to require more skillful handling than a toddler? No? Then try on these figures from an about-to-be-released survey and see how they fit your budget: In 1988, the lowest-paid workers in child care, assistant teachers in preschool centers, made $5.16 an hour; in 1992, they made $5.08, a figure that works out to about $8,890 a year.

The highest-paid teachers at the centers, most of whom have college-level training in early childhood education, were doing slightly better: in 1992 they made $8.85 an hour, up from $8.19 in 1988, for an annual salary of $15,488. That's about twice as much as the burgermeisters at McDonald's make.

The bad news is that, even as the number of centers has grown to accommodate the demands of working parents since the mid-1970s, salaries in real dollars are off by 20 percent. About a fifth of the 10 million American children in child care are in certified, regulated centers.

These figures come from the Child Care Employee Project, a research and advocacy project in Oakland, Calif., which has updated a survey of child-care centers it released in 1989.

On Thursday, the project will release its new report in Washington as children, teachers and child care providers call attention to its findings by observing Worthy Wage Day, a program sponsored by a group known as the Worthy Wage Coalition.

In locations across the country, from Pacific Grove College in California to the Jelly Bean Child Care Center in Stamford, Conn., child care advocates will take time off to march, rally and wear buttons in the service of a quest for higher _ or "worthy" _ wages and wild-and-crazy amenities like paid health benefits, which are now offered to less than a third of teachers.

The original study may be remembered for the chill it sent up many a working parent's spine: the high turnover of child care workers, the survey concluded, hurt the children's language and social development. …