Child care workers are better educated and are expected to know more about children and their developmental needs than they did 25 years ago.
Yet, many child care workers earn poverty-level wages, according to a national report released Tuesday. Forty-six percent of child care workers nationally use at least one public benefits program such as Medicaid or food stamps, or qualified for the federal earned income tax credit in 2012, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California at Berkeley.
Child care workers and kindergarten teachers in North Carolina earned less in real dollars in 2013 than they did in 1997. The actual mean hourly wage for North Carolina child care workers in 2013 was $9.57. In 1997, the mean wage in 2013 dollars was $9.71.
Mean wages for preschool teachers rose slightly, to $12.27 an hour from $11.45 an hour.
“It’s not just that wages are inadequate,” said Marcy Whitebook, one of the report’s authors. “The wages you earn aren’t based on qualifications. They’re more based on where you end up in the system.” Her example: Teachers in N.C. Pre-K classrooms for 4-year-olds often make more than teachers who have the same level of education but work with 3-year-olds.
Wages in the U.S. are stagnant across most industries. But child care advocates say early child care workers stand out because their wages have been stunted far longer.
Child Care Services, an agency with offices in Chapel Hill and Durham, does an annual study of child care worker education and salaries. In 2001, 20 percent of child care workers had associates degrees or higher. By 2013, that had jumped to 48 percent, said its president, Anna Carter. The average salary is about $10 an hour, and 40 percent of state workers used some kind of public assistance program in the last three years.
“We don’t show our value for our teachers in early childhood,” she said. “Based on what they’re worth, we don’t pay them what they should be making.”
Advocates said there’s no simple solution for raising wages, because working parents can’t afford to pay more.
The report calls for a reassessment of early care and education policies that would include “a dedicated source of public funds” to increase salaries and guidelines for workplace standards and early childhood teachers.
Many people wrongly equate the type of work that goes on in child care centers with babysitting, Whitebook said. Teachers of young children “need to have a certain level of knowledge and skills that teachers of older children do,” she said.