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New index intended to help address pay, conditions of childcare workers
About half of childcare employees are on a government assistance program, such as food stamps and Medicaid, according to a recent study. - photo by Sarah Anderson
The expense of childcare isn't the only burden the needed service poses to the poor. The low salaries childcare employees earn makes it difficult for them to lift themselves out of poverty.

To help policymakers address the challenges faced by workers and the children in care centers, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California-Berkeley has created an index that gives a baseline description of work conditions and state policies. This first-ever The Early Childhood Workforce Index shows:

  • Around 46 percent of childcare workers are in families that take part in at least one government assistance program, such as Medicaid or food stamps.
  • The median wage for childcare workers across the U.S. is $9.77, placing them among the lowest-paid in the country.
  • While 23 states require a bachelors degree for both pre-K and elementary school teachers, only four states require the same starting salary and salary schedule for all public pre-K teachers as kindergarten to third-grade teachers earn.
The New York Times highlighted Carmella Salinas, who looks after 4-year-old and 5-year-old children at a nonprofit center in New Mexico. She rarely earns enough to cover her bills, with the electricity once cut off on her birthday. She provides groceries for herself and her 10-year-old son through food stamps.

When Salinas tried to supplement her income with a second job, she no longer qualified for food stamps and Medicaid, and could not then afford the inhalers she needed for her chronic asthma. Had it not been for the house she inherited from her mother, Salinas would not be able to make ends, according to the New York Times.

The time is long overdue for moving from the question of why we must improve early childhood jobs to a focus on how to make it happen, a co-author of the index, Lea Austin stated in press release. We need to radically shift how we look at early care and education and value it as a public good.

The center recommended steps to correct the problem, such as established minimum education requirements, compensation and benefits, and workplace standards designed to reduce stress, along with a wage hike.

But setting education standards for teachers of such young children can be complicated, as Katharine Stevens, an education policy researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, told The New York Times.

This is a crucial area, and we need people who are good at it, she said to The Times. But a college degree may not be necessary to be a very good caretaker of infants and toddlers.

And the issue circles back to the already expensive childcare centers, where raising workers wages will further raise prices, The New York Times noted.

Already many places in the U.S. have seen childcare costing more than rent, and it has outpaced inflation since the recession, according to Bloomberg.

Part of the issue is that parents will pay more for greater perceived quality in a daycare, such as smaller staff-to-child ratios, Bloomberg explained.

Another theory for the high cost is that there is no consistent federal funding for childcare services, noted. Its only come in fits and starts as a response to an immediate broader social need, such as during World War II when women entered the workforce, it added.
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