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Childcare workers make less than Amazon delivery drivers, on average

What does it say about our society that we value the delivery of consumer goods more than we value care work?

Childcare workers make less than Amazon delivery drivers, on average

Nannies and early childhood educators do incredibly important work. Parents and children need these workers, they are vital to families and our economy. And they are woefully underpaid.

On average, nannies in the United States make less than Amazon delivery drivers, and day care workers earn less than either.

According to Sittercity's most recent data, the typical hourly rate of nannies in 2019 is $17.50 per hour. According to Amazon, most delivery drivers earn $18 - $25 per hour. And day care workers make only a couple dollars more than they would working in fast food, earning $11.17 per hour on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What does it say about our society that we value the delivery of consumer goods more than we value care work?

Yes, parents are struggling to pay for childcare, but those caring for our children are struggling to pay their bills, too, and it is hard to retain talented professionals when there is more money to be made in other fields. "It is stressful. Everybody loves these children, and that's why they're there, but the love can't pay their bills," day care operator Danielle Frank told KSNB News this week.

Frank owns Smiling Faces Academy in Kearney, Nebraska, but the problem of high turnover and low wages in the childcare industry is an issue all over the United States. This isn't a uniquely American issue, either. In Japan, day care workers are desperately needed, the New York Times reports, but childcare workers there earn about a third less than workers in other industries and report struggling to cover the basic necessities.

Back in North America, this week day care workers in Nova Scotia, Canada who are frustrated with low wages have threatened to walk off the job, a move similar to one made by YMCA childcare workers in Chicago last year. "I make $15.50 an hour, and I have a BA in early childhood education with a certification in infants and toddlers," childcare worker Tahiti Hamer told WGN last year.

From Nebraska to Nova Scotia to the story is the same: Parents pay a lot for childcare while workers make very little, even though some licensed day cares require employees to have training in early childhood education, or even a bachelor's degree. And when you've got student loans, maybe carrying Amazon packages starts to look better than caring for children.

According to a recent study by the Indeed Hiring Lab, the childcare industry has two big problems right now.

"As the labor market has strengthened in recent years, more workers need child care. At the same time, growth in interest in child care jobs has slowed," Indeed Hiring Lab economist Nick Bunker notes. He suggests low-wage earners who work in childcare have more options these days, and employers should consider raising workers' pay.

It's easy to see why the industry has a hard time keeping workers, especially as other lower-wage job sectors (like Amazon delivery) expand. Unfortunately, for many childcare centers, paying workers more is just not doable without some help from levels of government.

And help is needed, not just to ensure that parents have access to quality, affordable childcare, but also to ensure that those providing it aren't living in poverty.

A study out of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, found childcare workers' earnings are not keeping pace with increases in similar professions or with the costs of childcare and living. "Childcare workers have also experienced no increase in real earnings since 1997, and, as was true in 1989, still earn less than adults who take care of animals, and barely more than fast food cooks. Those who work as preschool teachers have fared somewhat better; their wages have increased by 15 percent in constant dollars since 1997, although their wages remain low. In contrast, parent fees have effectively doubled," the researchers note, highlighting that many childcare workers earn so little they actually qualify for public assistance.

The researchers continue: "While there are no available data to explain this glaring gap between trends in parent fees and teacher wages, it is abundantly clear that families cannot bear the burden of addressing the imperative to provide more equitable compensation for their children's early childhood teachers."

Speaking to the Education Writers Association last year one of the reports' writers, Marcy Whitebook, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California at Berkeley, said the problem is that our society devalues the work of looking after and educating children under 5, even though it is as demanding and important as teaching those ages 5 and up.

"Americans aren't used to funding early childhood care and instruction like they do K-12 education," Whitebook said. "We don't look at it as education. And we don't look at it as education everyone should have access to."

That may change in the future, as presidential candidates float plans for universal pre-K and childcare, but right now, having access to childcare is a privilege. And those who are privileged enough to employ a nanny should pay them fairly if they want to keep them, says Elizabeth Harz, CEO of Sittercity. "It's also worth noting that when parents are proactive and offer systems and official paperwork that give nannies protection in the relationship, it goes a long way," says Harz.

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