- The childcare industry is dealing with its own labor shortage, making other shortages worse.
- Parents need care to be able to get back to work, but providers are understaffed and overworked.
- Boosting pay and benefits might help, according to workers who talked to Insider.
A lead preschool teacher in Ohio loves their job, but just applied to work at a call center.
That’s because the new job would pay $16 an hour, $3 more than they currently make.
“I can’t really say no to that,” said the worker, who, like others in this story requested anonomynity because they are in the process of looking for new jobs. It’s just one of the problems that the childcare industry faces amidst high turnover and staffing challenges.
In September, US childcare companies hired 17,800 new workers. That’s good news for those parents who want to re-enter the labor force, but employment is still down 10% from before the pandemic as the sector and the overall economy continues to recover. Like many industries, childcare is currently facing a labor crisis, shrinking the spots available for children and leaving parents unable to return to work.
Childcare – or lack thereof – “significantly” exacerbates labor shortages, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Insider. With workers leaving the industry in droves, that could spell trouble for economic recovery as the number of available spots shrinks further.
Politicians across the board are recognizing the lack of childcare as a problem. At least one Republican believes that childcare is a driver of labor shortages. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told Insider that labor crunches are due in part to difficulty finding childcare.
Here’s what childcare workers say could help fix the industry.
Childcare workers made a median hourly wage of $12.24 in 2020, per data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Non-managerial childcare employees, like teachers and people who directly work with children, have seen a pay bump during the pandemic. As seen in the following chart, average hourly earnings for these workers was $15.77 as of August.
“We got to get to a higher minimum wage – frankly, it’s even more than just minimum wage,” Raimondo told Insider. “Taking care of our elderly loved ones and our children, it’s the most important work we can do.”
A few legislative proposals are on the table right now that could help mitigate that. Democrats’ party-line infrastructure package would allocate $450 billion towards affordable childcare and universal pre-K. Some of that would go towards giving childcare providers the resources to bring up wages for their workers. President Joe Biden’s original proposal for the American Families Plan would boost the minimum wage for childcare workers to at least $15 an hour.
But that package isn’t close to passing at the moment, and may be pared down as Democrats negotiate the price and scope.
Investments in workers’ health and career
One childcare worker in Massachusetts has taught preschool her entire career. She’s worked in the industry for about six years at different kinds of childcare providers, big and small.
She told Insider she thinks trainings, tuition reimbursements, helping pay for certifications, and other educational and career development benefits on top of increased pay would maybe motivate more people to join childcare and also retain current staff.
Another issue: Low or paltry benefits. Sarah, a worker in Appalachia, said that her school doesn’t provide healthcare. Instead, workers have to go on public programs.
“Fewer than one in three (28%) child care workers are policyholders for employer-sponsored health insurance, compared to more than half (51%) of workers overall,” The National Women’s Law Center wrote in a fact sheet from 2020 about childcare workers.
More worker power
There’s been a rise in unionization for home-based childcare workers, with workers in California now allowed to collectively bargain.
“We need to be legally positioned or given some sort of status where we can collectively bargain for better rights,” Shane Dillelo, a childcare worker who recently quit, said.
“I do think workers are at a position right now where they have more options due to just employee shortages everywhere,” Dillelo said.
If childcare wants to keep its workers, it might need to give them more of a say.
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