Childcare Costs More Than Ever, So Why Are Caregivers So Underpaid?

by Ashley Austrew
Originally Published: 

Everyone knows childcare is expensive, but the numbers seem even more outrageous when you compare them with the average salary of the people who take care of our kids all day.

According to a recent piece in The Atlantic, the average childcare worker doesn’t even make enough money to afford their own services. Childcare can cost up to 15 percent of the median household income for a two-parent family, and up to 40 percent of the median income for a single parent family. For childcare workers? It eats up a full third or more of their income.

In her piece, writer Gillian B. White reveals that the average wage of a childcare worker — $10.39 per hour — is a staggering 40 percent less than the average wage of workers in jobs that require a similar skill set. That’s true, even as the cost of daycare reaches astronomical new heights. The New York Daily News reports the average cost of childcare in New York City has topped $16,000 per year. Nationally, the cost of childcare has risen 168% over the past 25 years.

When you consider the absurd amount of money we’re spending on childcare, it’s difficult to fathom that these facilities are unable to pay their workers a decent wage. Betty Henderson, a daycare owner who spoke with White, said it’s simply much harder behind the scenes than it appears. In fact, after “paying teachers, providing food, educational resources, rent, light, gas, water, Internet, landline phone,” and other expenses, she says there is almost nothing left over — and that’s only paying her teachers $9 per hour.

As parents, we demand a lot from our childcare workers. We want our kids to be safe, to learn new things, to be constantly engaged, and to spend their time with caregivers who make them feel confident and secure. The only problem is, these workers are not being compensated in accordance with our demands.

It’s completely unacceptable that someone could spend the day caring for my child, yet not be able to afford care for their own kids. Some daycares allow employees to bring their kids with them, but that’s not an option for everyone. Plus, having their own kids there at a reduced rate takes spaces that could go towards full-price customers and cuts into the money that would potentially go towards their paychecks. Not to mention, it’s absurd to expect workers to provide good care when they’re shouldering the burden of being unable to make ends meet.

Daycare is prohibitively expensive for a lot of people, and very few of us have the option to simply not work. Daycare workers are providing an invaluable service that allows us to go out and make money, but they’re in it for a paycheck too. They deserve to be compensated fairly and to be able to afford quality care for their kids while they’re at work, just like anyone else.

Bottom line: the price of childcare has to go down and the salary for childcare workers has to go up. As White writes, it may take government subsidies or universal pre-k or any number of possible solutions, but we have to do better. No one should be financially prohibited from making use of quality childcare services, especially not the childcare workers themselves.

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