Why Child Care May Never Be Well Compensated

Posted on November 9, 2015


It’s because of the limited availability of parental dollars to pay for the service.

Marketwatch published an interesting chart this week, showing how those who care for our nation’s children are compensated at a lower rate than bellhops, car cleaners, and even parking lot attendants.

Why is this? Child-care workers are entrusted with our nation’s sons and daughters, often at very young ages when they are particularly impressionable, vulnerable, or even fragile. One would expect that those entrusted with children would be reasonably intelligent, would have high integrity, would be compassionate, competent, dedicated to their jobs – and their charges. This should command a premium paycheck, yet, according to the article, it does not; moreover, those who care for the youngest children are generally the most poorly paid. Why?

Here’s why: because the purpose of the child-care worker, in most cases, is to enable a working parent (usually Mom) to maintain a job and bring in a salary. Directly or indirectly, it is that salary that pays for the child care… and child care is expensive. This leads to financial tension between Mom’s income and the overall child-care expense; if expenses are too great a slice of Mom’s income, it no longer makes sense to work outside the home (a former co-worker with seven children quite literally could not afford for his well-educated wife to work outside the home; childcare costs would have demolished her salary and part of his as well).

For married couples, it is common to spend some 10% of their total income for one child’s care, or even 15%; but the more children, the more expense. Single parents are much worse off, despite the fact that they make up some 24% of households with children, and about a third of our nation’s children are in a single-parent home.

Clearly, parents cannot sign over their entire salary to the child-care worker, and most parents are not wealthy enough to pay a decent living wage to their kids’ caregivers, a la Mary Poppins; the parents all too often are not earning a decent wage themselves, and this is especially true of single parents.  The cost of infant care exceeds 25% of a single parent’s income in every state, and can easily range up to 75% of a single mother’s income.

You can’t get blood from a turnip, as they say.  So if parents’ salaries can’t support a private, one-on-one nanny for their kids, the solution must be group care in a facility.  Care workers can and do take on greater numbers of children to increase their income, but that only goes so far: legally, there are various limits on child-to-caregiver ratios, and the more children per worker, the lower the quality of the care (generally). If child care is provided by a group facility, then there are also overhead expenses to pay for: building rent, maintenance, administrative costs, materials and services, insurance, various other business expenses. Care costs go up to cover those expenses; salary, not so much!  And we find ourselves little better off in terms of either affordable care, or decent caregiving wages.

The Atlantic has their own take on this. What’s yours?