Child Care Compensation
Approximately 3 million child care teachers, assistants and family child care providers in the U.S. care for 10 million children each day. These child care teachers and providers are better educated than the general population and yet earn lower wages and experience higher turnover rates than their comparably educated counterparts in the labor force.
Parents should be concerned about low staff wages and high turnover rates among their children because there has been a confirmed link between the staff wages, staff turnover and quality in child care center settings. Numerous studies have documented the impact of caregiver stability and continuity on children's development. When a child care teacher or provider leaves, children must adapt to new routines and new relationships. Parents, too, pay a price when child care staff leave, particularly if the caregivers' leaving means a change in child care arrangements. It is difficult to develop an open and trusting relationship between parent and provider when turnover is high. Yet, a trusting parent-provider relationship is a critical factor in high-quality care for children.
Child care center directors share stories about the difficulties they experience in attracting an detaining qualified child care staff. For instance, some individual classrooms had to close because of insufficient staff. The burden that child care directors reported in their ongoing battle to attract and retain staff was shared by the programs parents and children who experienced great distress at losing beloved teachers and caregivers.
The child care compensation crisis is serious. Nationally the picture suggests that child care staff are among the lowest paid of all classes of workers. Child care workers with some college earn an average of $11,617 per year compared to the average annual salary of all female workers in the United States with some college education at $26,747. Staff turnover among child care teachers is high nationally, ranging for 25% to 50% each year.
What is the solution?
Child care wages depend largely and sometimes entirely, on parent fees, while public school salaries depend on a broad tax base. Although some families are able to pay higher child care costs, child care in financially burdensome for most families. Full-time child care costs between $4,000 and $10,000 per year depending on such variables as a child's age, the program type and geographic area. According to a recent report by the Children's Defense Fund, child care costs twice as much as college tuition in cities in 15 states.
The following slogan from the Center for the Child Care Workforce, a nonprofit organization working to improve child care quality through improved compensation and working conditions for child care workers, describes the dilemma best: "Teachers can't afford to stay. Parents can't afford to pay. There's got to be a better way."
A variety of strategies to break the link between what parents pay for child care and what child care providers earn are being explored at community and state levels across the United States. These initiatives, supported by public and private dollars, include the following:
What can parents do about low wages and high turnover rates in child care?
Parents can play a key role in easing the child care compensation crisis. The following strategies may help improve working conditions for child care workers:
For more information:
Center for the Child Care Workforce 202-737-7700
Children's Defense Fund
US Department of Labor. Woman's Bureau
Families and Work Institute 212-465-2044