Twenty-Five Years Later, Child Care Staff are Still Making Unlivable Wages

By Stephanie Schmit

A key component of quality, stability, and continuity in child care settings is high-quality, well-supported child care teachers. Livable wages, pay increases over time, and support and professional development are instrumental in attracting and retaining high-quality teachers.  When these elements come together, we see children and teachers thriving.

In 1989, the National Child Care Staffing Study revealed that teachers were not making livable wages, leading to high rates of turnover and adverse consequences for children. The 25-year update, Worthy Work STILL Unlivable Wages, shows that little has changed since 1989; child care staff continues to make poor wages and turnover remains high.

The study shows that wages remain low across early childhood teaching positions. Earnings among child care workers and preschool teachers have increased just 1 percent and 15 percent, respectively, since 1997. Meanwhile, costs to parents have doubled. Ironically, the children in care who have low-wage parents that utilize child care subsidies to allow them to go to work, also have caregivers who are low-wage workers, too. Many child care providers feel economically insecure and must rely on public benefit programs to support their families. In 2012, 46 percent of child care workers resided in families who were enrolled in at least one public benefits program (SNAP; Medicaid or CHIP; TANF; and EITC) compared to 25 percent of all workers.

Last week, the president signed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) of 2014 into law. While the law takes important steps to improve the child care subsidy system for children and families, more investments in CCDBG are needed during implementation to increase compensation for child care workers.

Since wages, qualifications, and working conditions for teachers so heavily influence the quality of care that children receive, policymakers must focus on the economic status of the early childhood workforce. In order to pay higher wages, there must be more investment in early childhood education programs. Sustainable, dedicated sources of public funding must be identified and utilized to ensure that hard-working teachers aren’t earning unlivable wages in another 25 years.