The next time you pass a McDonald’s or Wendy’s, keep the following in mind: Many workers at these restaurants are likely earning more money per hour than child care workers in the region.
During the pandemic, low wages and concerns about health and safety have led to a shortage of staff in child care facilities in the region. The result has numerous challenging consequences. One is that many parents can’t find quality child care for their children. Another is that people who are eager to work with children have to find other jobs that actually allow them to earn a living wage.
“This is a problem in the region, and around the country,” says Hilari Devine, Early Childhood Systems Director for Smart Beginnings. “When wages don’t go up, we can’t get that high quality educator into the classrooms. They can’t even open the doors to some classrooms because there’s a shortage of teachers.”
Devine points to a couple of responses that can help address the current situation in the region. The first is for community colleges to work with community colleges to train and offer coursework to people who want to go into the field. Another development is that state grants are funding teacher recognition bonuses – though not wage increases - to private school teachers.
The longstanding crisis of low pay for child care teachers, says Devine, comes at a time when awareness about the importance of early childhood education appears to be rising – especially with many parents at home during the pandemic. “More people are seeing that the early years are a time when a young child’s brain develops and how children benefit from age-appropriate activities,” she adds.
One impact of this issue is that military families that have relocated to the area are now on waiting lists for child care. The result is that they may have to delay work until they find adequate child care. Nancy Null, Child Care Program Manager and consumer referral specialist for Smart Beginnings, calls the current situation “Unbelievable. People who own child care centers and work for themselves in their homes don’t have money to pay for an extra person. What we try to do is get out into the community and work with organizations to get the word out,” she adds. “There has to be some type of assistance for child care workers that exceeds what is being paid for now. If a child care center can’t provide that, they need to have some way to supplement what they pay staff.”
- Dan Baron
Dan Baron writes extensively about social issues for nonprofit organizations and universities. He has also worked as a journalist. His website is danbaron.com