Daycare Workers Are Quitting Because They Don’t Get Paid Enough

Despite how expensive child care is, many childcare workers living in poverty.

by Ethan Freedman
Originally Published: 
A day care worker stands, bent over, a child. Both wear masks

Many childcare jobs disappeared as the pandemic closed pre-schools and daycares. These closures of daycare centers had a cascading effect on the employment of working women across the country, many of whom were forced to leave their jobs at higher rates than their male counterparts in order to care for their children.

And the economic effects of such a reality have been catastrophic — the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic recession is occasionally referred to as the “shecession.” But now, even as daycares begin to reopen, there’s a new problem: childcare workers across the country are quitting, or not returning to work, due to low pay.

Per the Washington Post, the pay for caring for children and helping develop their young minds is terrible. The publication spoke to Tanzie Roberts of Florida, who quit her job in June, and told the Post that before she left she made just $11.45/hour.

“The pay is absolute crap for what’s required for the position,” Roberts told the Post. “I can’t afford to live on my own and work the child-care jobs that I am qualified for.”

Roberts is hardly alone. According to a new report from the US Treasury department — a report that describes the current childcare system as “unworkable” — childcare workers earn an average of just $24,230 per year, Insider notes.

And the median hourly wage for childcare workers in 2019 could be as low as $9-10 dollars an hour in some states, according to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at UC Berkeley.

Many of these wages likely don’t pay enough to support their workers. While the 2019 median hourly wage for child care workers in North Carolina was just $10.62/hour according to the CSCCE, a single person without children would need to earn $14.62/hour working full time to earn a living wage in the state, according to the Living Wage calculator at MIT. For workers with children of their own, those needs are even higher.

These low wages have historically caught up with many childcare workers. According to the CSCCE, poverty rates for early educators were consistently higher than average poverty rates in 2019 and in many states, over 20% of early educators were living in poverty.

But these numbers don’t necessarily take into account the impact of the pandemic, which has provided its own challenges to childcare employment.

Even in a normal economy, the industry is fragile. The new Treasury report points out that an average family with a child less than five years old has to spend 13 percent of their income just on childcare. That fact is why the Biden administration has vowed to make historic investments in child care and ensure that no family pays more than 7 percent of their income on the service. But affordability alone is not the problem.

Almost half of childcare workers use government help like food stamps to survive, Insider points out. Just 12 states extend collective bargaining rights to family childcare workers, who are unionized far less often than K-12 teachers, per the Treasury report.

In addition, the report states that “since the vast majority of the workers are women and disproportionately women of color, the sector likely benefits from existing discrimination in labor markets.”

Add that to the lack of access to childcare centers that many families find — that child care centers are over-enrolled, hard to find, and struggling — and it’s a totally unworkable system from top to bottom. In the meantime, child care workers are leaving for greener pastures — as major retail chains have raised their wages in a bid to attract workers. It’s hard to blame them.

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