Magazine article The American Prospect

Child-Care Pay, Child-Care Quality: Decent Early Childhood Education Requires Well-Trained and Compensated Educators

Magazine article The American Prospect

Child-Care Pay, Child-Care Quality: Decent Early Childhood Education Requires Well-Trained and Compensated Educators

Article excerpt

HIGHER QUALITY OF EARLY education and child care will require a better-paid and better-qualified work force. Making progress in these areas is also a matter of economic justice and of employment equality for the overwhelmingly female child-care work force.

The estimated 2.5 million adults who are paid to care for children are among the lowest earners in the U.S. According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Center for the Child Care Workforce, the average annual income of workers in child-care centers was just more than $18,000 in 2004--nearly $27,000 less than kindergarten teachers, and some $35,550 less than flight attendants. The estimated 76 percent of all paid child-care providers who work in homes earn even less than those who work in centers.

Paid child care has increased steadily in recent decades. Between 1985 and 1999, the percentage of all families with employed mothers who paid for care for their children (from birth to age 14) grew from 34 percent to 43 percent. Yet the wages of child-care workers increased by an anemic 3.23 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1999 and 2004.

Why are child-care workers faring so poorly when their services are in such high demand? Mainly because most care is paid for by families--and those in greatest need have the most meager resources. Although federal, state, and local government expenditures for child-care assistance are now estimated to exceed $20 billion annually, most of this assistance is provided through means-tested subsidies received by only a fraction of low-income working families, or through modest federal and state tax credits for out-of-pocket expenditures. So parents and other family members continue to pay most of the costs of care.

Our recent study of child-care costs in New York City--which has one of the most extensive systems of public childcare provision in the country--found that 80 percent of families used some form of paid care. But only about one-quarter received any assistance through subsidies, tax credits, or enrollment of children in public preschool programs.

Child-care workers in some parts of the country, most recently in New York City, have successfully organized to bargain for higher wages. These efforts have been most successful, however, when the employers have been public programs or large child-care centers that can charge relatively high fees to at least some families. …

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