Child-Care Workers' Wages Found To Be Stagnant

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Despite a rise in public funding for child care, most employees who work in centers still earn just slightly more than the minimum wage, according to a nine-year study of compensation and benefits in the child-care industry.

At a time when policymakers are focusing on the early years, the report, "Worthy Work, Unlivable Wages," by the Washington-based Center for the Child Care Workforce, indicates that poor working conditions for child-care employees lead to unstable environments for children.

For More Information:
"Worthy Work, Unlivable Wages: The National Child Care Staffing Study, 1986-1997" is available for $19.95 from the Center for the Child Care Workforce, 733 15th St. N.W., Suite 1037, Washington, D.C. 20005-2112; (202) 737-7700 or (800) U-R-WORTHY. It can also be ordered directly from their Web site.

The study, planned for release this week, does reveal an increase in wages over the nine-year period for the highest-paid teachers, from $9.53 an hour to $10.85. But the baseline study in 1988 showed that teachers earning that much made up only a small portion of the overall teaching staff. For most employees, wages have remained stagnant.

Since 1988, employee turnover in centers has fallen, the report says, but it still remains high at 31 percent. Centers with the highest turnover in 1988 have since closed. Only 14 percent of center teachers have remained at their positions over the past decade.

Health-insurance coverage for staff members has shown some improvement, the researchers found. In fact, one-fourth of the centers that did not provide coverage in 1992 were providing it in 1997. Still, only 21 percent provide their teachers and teaching assistants with fully paid insurance, even though employees are often exposed to illness.

Target Investment

For-profit child-care centers, rather than nonprofit programs, have seen the greatest increase in public funding, the report says. Those dollars, however, are primarily intended to increase the supply of care, not to improve quality or raise wages.

"Public funds do appear to be helping more families get care," said Marcy Whitebook, a co-director of the Center for the Child Care Workforce. "But the investment needs to be targeted toward these other areas."

The authors also point to a few examples of efforts to stabilize the child-care workforce. TEACH--for Teacher Education and Compensation Helps--helps cover the cost of college tuition for child-care employees and rewards them with bonuses when they complete coursework and stay on the job. The program began in North Carolina and has spread to several other states. ("Learning To Care," Feb. 11, 1998.)

In California this month, Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, a Democrat, introduced legislation that would give child-care providers annual stipends based on their level of training. Centers could use other state aid to improve quality.

Another example is the Head Start Expansion and Quality Improvement Act, which has set aside 25 percent of all new federal Head Start funds for quality improvements and increased compensation since 1990. The report recommends that the federal government do the same with new child-care dollars.

It also recommends that professional development and credentialing programs be linked to "concrete rewards," such as wage supplements, and that public reimbursements of child-care programs be raised to reflect the true cost of providing care. Lastly, programs receiving public money should be required to meet high standards for training and rewarding personnel, the report says.

Welfare Workers

The 1997 study was conducted through telephone interviews with the directors of 158 centers in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Phoenix, and Seattle. The original study involved extensive, on-site observations at 227 centers. Seven of the original centers chose not to participate in the follow-up study; the remaining 62 have closed.

The researchers also found that 80 percent of for-profit child-care chains employ welfare recipients. Because their average salary is $5.50 an hour, the report says, their prospects for economic self-sufficiency are limited.

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