May 9 is the day we celebrate our nation’s child care providers, early childhood educators and teachers. And while we celebrate, we also must reflect on how we acknowledge their commitment to children through pay, professional preparation, and promotion of the field as an essential driver supporting the healthy development of children.
Low pay, big responsibilities
We know child care providers don’t get paid a lot. But previous statistics like those from Georgetown University’s Center on Education which show an early childhood education degree among the least lucrative of all college majors, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s report that the median pay for child care providers was $9.30 per hour in 2012, still shock me. It is so critical that our nation’s providers and early childhood educators get the professional preparation they want and deserve in the classroom, either through higher education or in professional preparation training programs.
Subsiding child care costs
Child care providers are essentially subsidizing the cost of child care with their paychecks. Even with such low provider wages, families pay a lot for child care. Child care costs eat up a larger percent of a family’s budget – rocketing from two percent of the cost to raise a child in 1960 to 18 percent in 2012. Child care and education, not including college, costs families more than healthcare and food, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report on the cost of raising a child. Our cost of child care report showed the average cost of child care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college. Two children in child care? That can cost you more than a mortgage in 19 states and Washington D.C.
But the biggest loser in this low pay and high cost equation is quality. Studies and stories have proven that quality costs money and that quality is worth the upfront investment, returning at a rate of as much as 15 percent, according to economist James Heckman. Supporting our early childhood providers and educators with a living wage and professional ongoing support is essential to delivering quality as well. When child care providers leave the profession because of low pay, the turnover affects a child’s education, and we lose great educators.
One solution to a quality child care system that supports child care providers and families would be to diversify the financial support for child care so all children can access quality care no matter their family’s ability to pay.
Join us in honoring those who teach, nurture and care for our children on May 9, and remember they too need our support all year round. What other solutions would you suggest?