Wages too low, options too few: Washington’s child care crisis impacts children, parents, providers

April 28, 2016 | Aaron Keating

child ladderFor Laura Chandler, seeing parents struggle with the rising costs of child care and dwindling availability is almost a daily occurrence.

Chandler has worked as an early learning curriculum coordinator at Small Faces in Seattle for almost three decades: “I’m proud to work in child care, but after 28 years in the field I’ve seen too many parents forced to choose between quality care and other bills, or not finding child care within a reasonable distance so they can get to work” she said. “This happens all the time.”

Chandler is not alone. A new report by the Economic Policy Institute exposes the harsh truths about the child care crisis in Washington State – and around the country – and highlights how a national investment that caps families’ child care expenditures at 10 percent of their income could help more women join and stay in the workforce, boost national GDP by about $210 billion and put $5.9 billion into Washington State’s economy.

“This study lays out in clear detail what parents – and child care workers – know all too well: child care costs significantly burden families,” said Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica, the largest immigrant advocacy group in Washington State. “The typical child care worker in Washington would have to spend nearly 60 percent of her earnings to put her own child in infant care.  We live in an economy where a single income often isn’t enough to support a family. Parents must then choose to work or stay with their child.  And if they work, the person they rely on for child care isn’t earning enough to support their own families.  Washington’s insufficient investments in child care and early learning exacerbate racial and gender injustice. It’s past time to take action to support Washington’s families and child care providers.”

Child care cost in Washington is freezing out families

“In Washington and many other states, child care is even more expensive than college, putting it out of reach for too many families who desperately need it,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director of MomsRising, a leading advocacy group for the fair treatment of women and mothers. “The findings and recommendations made in the Economic Policy Institute report would both ensure families have access to affordable child care and ensure that child care workers are paid a reasonable wage. We urge our elected officials to adopt this practical solution to fixing our broken child care system.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • Washington is ranked 10th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for most expensive infant care.
  • The average annual cost of infant care in Washington is $12,733—that’s $1,061 per month.
  • Child care for a 4-year-old costs $9,588, or $799 each month.

Making child care affordable would save the average Washington family more than $5,800 a year. Child care providers are currently among the lowest paid workers in the country, with a median hourly wage 39.3% lower than the median hourly wage of workers in other occupations.

“A child’s early experiences lay the foundation for lifelong success,” said Jon Gould, Deputy Director of Children’s Alliance. “Quality early learning, including child care, should be within the financial means of every family.  Something is terribly wrong when child care costs more than college tuition. We can and must do better. Policymakers should step up to this challenge and realize the promise of quality early learning for educational and life success for Washington’s children.”

The report also found that fixing our broken child care system would put more money into the pockets of working people and improve the quality of care. A wage of at least $15 an hour would directly raise wages for 60% of child care workers. Higher wages, the report found, would also create incentives for child care centers to invest in staff training, ultimately improving quality and strengthening the workforce.

Low child care wages are impacting workers

“The report shows that if we want to address the gender gap in our economy, we cannot pit low-wage parents against low-wage childcare providers,” said Rebecca Saldana, Executive Director of Puget Sound Sage. “Both the public and private sectors are failing our communities and our economy.  It’s time we listen to moms, care givers and child care providers to find real solutions.”

John Burbank, Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute notes that:

  • The median wage in our state for child care aides in 2014 was $10.70, only 2 cents above what it was in 2004.
  • The median wage of child care teachers in 2014 was $12.85, only 21 cents above what it was in 2004.
  • The median wage of child care supervisors in 2014 was $15.52, 52 cents less than it was in 2004.

“For decades policy makers have been trumpeting the need for high quality child care,” Burbank said. “But they have ignored the most important foundation for high quality care. That is appropriate compensation and educational and professional incentives for child care workers.  Our children will never benefit from high quality child care if we continue to disrespect and underpay their teachers and caregivers.”

Last week, 6.5 million Californians and millions of workers in New York celebrated a historic $15/ hour win. And in Washington State, thousands of people are rallying behind an initiative to ramp up the state minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2020 and enact paid sick leave for working families.

Posted in Early Learning, Education, State Economy, Women in the Workforce

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