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Let’s Talk…Worthy Wage

I say it is time for a change – and I’m not just talking dirty diapers here – to pay early childhood professionals a livable wage! Iowa State University Extension and Outreach recently published a document titled Who Cares for Iowa’s Children? Based on the last workforce survey in 2009, the average wage of teachers and caregivers in child care fell below the federal poverty guidelines for a family of four.

Do the wages early childhood professionals receive really affect the quality of child care? Absolutely, they do! Low pay and poor benefits make it constantly harder for programs to recruit and retain qualified, well-trained teachers, and they fuel high teacher turnover. Researchers in child development have long identified the presence of consistent, nurturing caregivers as one of young children’s primary needs, and studies show that children in centers with high turnover and undertrained staff are less competent in language and social development. Infants and toddlers in particular suffer when their teachers lack specialized early childhood training, and this age group is the most sensitive to constant changes in caregiving staff.

Yet, if you are a program administrator you know the problem all too well. You want quality staff that stay with the program for a while, but your costs to operate your program keep rising. You know parents pay a significant percentage of their income for child care, and you wonder how they can pay more. Early childhood programs accepting financial assistance for families with low incomes know that these fees often fall well below what is needed to operate a high quality program. So what can we do in our efforts to raise awareness and brainstorm ideas to make sure all early childhood professionals working in centers, homes, and schools are earning wages and receiving benefits that will allow them to know they are valued?

May 1 is recognized in many areas as Worthy Wage Day. The website lists activity ideas, a toolkit, and resources for sharing information. There are even stickers you can print off to distribute. I believe we have a duty to help educate parents and our community about the true cost of operating a quality early childhood program.  It’s time for a change! Who is with me?

We hope you will share with us! Has the salary you earn as an early childhood professional been a struggle for you to make ends meet? Have you ever shared with others like parents or legislatures your ideas for improving the system? What ideas do you have?  To respond, go to http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/wage/


Malisa Rader

Malisa Rader

Malisa Rader is a human sciences specialist that misses the daily hugs and high-fives from little people.

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  1. As a home daycare provider I have not struggled to make ends meet. As my own business woman I am able to set my salary. While I know that not all parents can pay what I charge for my child care services, many do and they know I am worth it! 😉

  2. As a director of a licensed non-profit center for the last 10 years and an early childhood teacher before that I have struggled with the “worthy wage” issue. I am thankful for the staff that I have but it is very hard to recruit any new child care workers because of low pay. The absence of benefits is also an issue if their spouse doesn’t have a group plan at work. Even as the director I don’t have health insurance benefits or retirement. When I am done working here I won’t have anything except my own savings. I pay for my own individual plan. I’ve seen how both pay and the lack of insurance keep people from applying and I have lost good employees because of it. As a boss it is very sad to know that most of my staff don’t have health insurance and sometimes they can’t afford groceries or a doctor appointment. We need to be healthy and strong to best care for others! Raising fees to raise pay has been difficult in our small community. Parents struggle to pay for daycare and preschool. I don’t know what the answer is but I am willing to speak out and work towards a solution. Could more on-site training take the place of some conferences around the state and pass the savings onto licensed providers who prove that training goals are being met. Would these dollars be enough to raise wages without raising fees to families?

    Change needs to happen! And child care/preschool providers need to be paid a worthy wage. There are young adults who go into early chilhood but don’t end up with kids where they wanted to be because they simply can’t afford to. Let’s get them back and encourage more to further their education in this field. I’m with ya!

    Debbie Kroksh

  3. Good for you Elizabeth! We need to make sure our own needs are met before we can be a good caregiver for others. I like to use the term “make sure your own gas mask is on first” from what the flight attendants tell us as a safety feature before flying – you need to make sure your gas mask is on so you can help others with theirs. You deserve a worthy wage, so that you can continue to provide excellent care for the children in your program. You are worth every penny! 🙂

    Your post does raise another interesting point. What about the families with limited financial resources? Those families often have fewer choices when it comes to child care, and frequently have to settle for lower quality because that is all that they can afford or that will accept the assistance they receive. As professionals who care about young children and their families, we need to be the voice in helping those in positions to make a difference understand the real price of quality child care costs and who suffers when we stay silent.

    So happy that you shared and to know it IS possible to be a child care professional and earn a livable wage!!

  4. Debbie – Can I get an amen?! You make an interesting suggestion and I am open to considering just about anything that will help keep good early childhood professionals in the field! I appreciate that you shared about the importance of benefits. We know most parents of young children can’t afford the full cost of a quality early childhood program, yet we also know the first five years are the most influential – this is when the brain is developing and secure attachments are so important. We need the best and the brightest, the educated and the skilled coming to our field and staying in the classroom when that is their calling – and that will only come on a widespread basis when early childhood teachers and caregivers know are valued and able to meet their needs and the needs of their family. The young children of our nation (and the people caring for them) deserve nothing less!