Given that we claim to care for our children, enough for many of us to engage in systemic racism by moving to the suburbs for the schools or sending our kids to private schools if we stay in the city, helping to replicate generations of racialized educational inequality, you would think that we would actually value the people who work with our children. But of course we do not. In fact, we pay them beans. That includes teachers, but it is especially true for child care workers. And that’s a crime and self-destructive if we are putting our children’s interests at heart.
The people who take care of America’s children, and make it possible for their parents to work outside the home, are paid less than dog trainers or janitors.
“Despite the crucial nature of their work, child care workers’ job quality does not seem to be valued in today’s economy,” wrote Elise Gould, the author of a 2015 report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Child care workers — including people who care for children in day care centers, in preschools, as nannies, through religious organizations, and in other facilities — are paid almost 40 percent less than all other workers.
Of course, some workers tend to earn more or less based on their education, age, race, where they live, or other factors. But even controlling for things like that, child care workers make 23 percent less than other workers who are similar to them but work in other industries. Child care workers are also more than twice as likely to live in poverty, and very few receive benefits like health insurance. More than one-third of them live at twice the poverty level or below. (Some economists think the “twice poverty” metric is a better measure of how well families can actually make ends meet than the formula for the official poverty threshold, which was calculated in the 1960s.)
And this is probably an optimistic assessment of how much child care workers make. The data set EPI analyzed doesn’t include self-employed child care workers, who make up about a quarter of the child care workforce and tend to make even less money, based on other estimates.
There’s also very little room for advancement in the child care field, and education and experience don’t do a whole lot to boost child care workers’ earnings. If you work in child care and have a bachelor’s degree, you will be rewarded with about a 40 percent smaller paycheck than your peers in other fields get — along with all of the student debt you may have racked up in the process.
That child care is gendered to be women’s work is precisely the point. Like every other job gendered as female, pay is low.
An astounding 95 percent of child care workers are women, according to the EPI report. And it may not be a coincidence that there is such a big “child care wage penalty” in such a women-dominated industry.
Sociologist Paula England argues that if an industry is dominated by women or is seen as “women’s work” (definitely the case for child care), employers implicitly set wages lower: “It is as if there were a cognitive bias toward thinking that if jobs are done by women, they cannot be worth much,” England said in a 2010 address. “Institutional inertia cements this bias into wage structures.”
Other research [PDF] by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows a “wage penalty” for both men and women who work in women-dominated industries.
This goes back to the gendering of textile work as women’s work in the early 19th century and to the transformation of grade school education and secretarial staff from male to female after the Civil War.
Imagine a crazy world with universal Pre-K, government funded child care, and 18 months of paid leave for mothers and fathers after a child is born. Sounds like a socialist hell, I will tell you what.