Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Showing More Care for the Care Givers

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Showing More Care for the Care Givers

Article excerpt

ANY week now, political candidates are likely to start showing up at child-care centers for what has become a favorite campaign-trail photo opportunity. They will cuddle babies, read stories to preschoolers, and perhaps even climb inside a fort, as President Bush did last year. Whatever the activity, they hope their presence will send a warm and cuddly message to voters: "Elect me. I like children, and I understand the needs of working families."

What won't be conveyed with equal fervor in any speeches from day-care centers is an understanding of the needs of the nation's 1 million child-care providers. Overworked and underpaid, they constitute one of the least stable and most undervalued professions. They earn an average of $5.35 an hour. Their real wages, adjusted for inflation, have declined by nearly one-quarter since the mid-1970s. Only a third have health insurance, and many don't receive retirement benefits. As a result, turnover averages 40 percent a year - hardly the kind of stability working parents and their young children need.

So serious is the problem that a coalition of early-childhood organizations has just launched a five-year "Worthy Wage Campaign." Their goal is to make politicians and everyone else aware that child care must become a career people can afford.

As part of Worthy Wage Day last Thursday, parents and care givers across the United States staged rallies, parades, and visits to legislators. In Missouri, they distributed peanuts with the slogan, "My child's teacher is tired of working for peanuts." In North Carolina, they wore tags to work that said, "Behind every working parent is an underpaid child-care worker." And in Tennessee, they placed life-size cutouts of children in workplaces and the downtown area.

Organizers are urging child-care providers to write to their legislators, explaining how much they are paid and how wages affect turnover. They also want parents to write letters, describing their concerns about their children and their own need for worthy wages to cover the cost of quality care.

These are modest, homespun efforts. But in a nation that speaks glibly about "quality" child care, they symbolize the gap between platitudes and reality. …

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