Why are childcare workers paid so little? That’s the question journalist E. Tammy Kim, who is set to join Al Jazeera America as a staff writer, set out to answer recently in an article for The Nation reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute with support from the Ms. Foundation for Women Fellowship.
In “Why Do the People Raising Our Children Earn Poverty Wages?,” Kim writes: “Childcare workers perform that most vital labor, rearing our young, But across the country, they are invisible and poorly paid, without healthcare, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation or other benefits.”
Low wages are common. Each state conducts an annual market-rate survey of childcare fees and then tries to pay providers around the recommended seventy-fifth percentile (few states do), reports Kim. The market, however, reflects what parents are willing to pay, not the actual costs.
“In theory, providers could raise their private-pay rates or impose strict late fees to make up the difference,” Kim points out. But the reality is that most parents just can’t afford to pay more as child care already takes a large chunk of their income.
Most child care workers are middle-aged women of color, earning very little in comparison to the responsibility they hold. According to Kim’s findings, most child care workers are low-income and a significant number do not speak English. “Legally, they are not considered employees. In New Jersey and 14 other states, in-home providers paid through public subsidies now belong to a union and can bargain collectively,” writes Kim.
In New Jersey, for example, “full-time” subsidy rate is based on only 30 hours per week (or “6 or more” hours per day) of childcare. “This hardly covers the average parent’s workday of eight or more hours plus the commute, but there’s no bonus or overtime pay for anything over 30 hours,” reports Kim. Due to this, the child care provider either charges a late fee or works the extra hours free. In 2011, the median income for a child care provider was $19,000 per year. Seventeen percent were living in poverty.
There is a push to organize child care providers to provide them better pay and working conditions. But the move has had many struggles. Read more at The Nation, but please chime in. What do you think is fair pay for a child care provider?