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Ear to the Ground

The Poverty of Child Care Professionals

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Posted on Aug 8, 2013
heidi_d (CC BY-NC ND 2.0)

In New Jersey and elsewhere, family child care providers are working as independent contractors looking after children whose parents are struggling to make ends meet.

The average profile of these in-home care providers is “a middle-aged woman of color with children of her own [who] enters the field to raise her own kids and earn a living minding others,’ ” E. Tammy Kim reports at The Nation. The children’s parents are often unmarried and enrolled in welfare-to-work programs or working several minimum-wage jobs just to pay the bills.

And yet, these child care professionals sometimes can’t even afford their own bills. Kim writes:

But across the country, they are invisible and poorly paid, without healthcare, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation or other benefits. In 2011, the median income of all childcare workers was about $19,000; 17 percent were living in poverty, and for “self-employed” in-home providers, the figure is likely much higher. Subsidy levels are based on a fraction of “market rates,” rather than providers’ expenses, and cover far fewer hours than are actually worked. Out of empathy with the families they serve, some providers charge even less to those ineligible for subsidies, who must pay fully out of pocket.

Many are paid less than $200 a week for each child whose care is subsidized by the state, which means they have to watch five children per shift (the legal maximum in New Jersey) just to be considered above the poverty line. Meanwhile, there are more than 16 million impoverished children in America, with as few as 2.4 million of them receiving state-subsidized care.

High-quality child care is essential to our society in a number of ways: It ensures working parents that their children are looked after by professionals who are concerned with their safety, health and development, and it contributes to economic growth—not only by allowing people with children to work, but also as an industry. And yet, early education employees are paid minimum wage or less.

How can government officials allow these indispensable workers to continue living in squalor?

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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