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You Spend a Ton of Money on Child Care, So Why Are Caregivers So Poorly Paid?

Imagine your job was to care for one of our country’s most important resources. The role requires finesse, compassion, and a wide variety of skills honed through years of experience. What would you expect to get paid? Less than the average janitor?


The resource in your custody is, of course, our children, and the job is that of a child care worker. Despite the high value we place on our kids, those who are paid to look after them are receiving poverty-level wages. And though the cost of daycare continues to skyrocket, the average childcare worker in the United States earns just $9.77 per hour, amounting to a paltry salary of $20,320 a year. 

A staggering 15% of child care workers live below the federal poverty line. Such low wages cause significant problems for their families – and indicate a serious cultural shortcoming.

One study of 600 child care employees found that three-quarters of them worried about having enough money to pay the bills, sadly, with good reason. In 14 states and the District of Columbia, a child care worker earning the median income for their field would have to spend more than their entire salary to put two children of their own in center-based care. For example, the average child care professional living in Hawaii earns less than $19,000 a year, while the annual bill for two kids in daycare is nearly $25,000.

Most child care workers aren’t receiving job-based benefits that help make up for low wages, either. Only 15 percent receive health insurance through their jobs, and less than 10 percent benefit from a pension plan. 

It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who’s spent time caring for children (their own, or others’) that the work is deeply undervalued. As a society, we intensely treasure our children, but we don’t tend to look as fondly upon the people who care for them. Nearly 97% of child care workers are female, and a disproportionate number of them are women of color. But child care is not simply another low-wage occupation. In fact, the hourly wage of child care workers is 23 percent lower than that of workers in similar occupations. 

Perhaps because most adults have cared for children at one point or another, or because most child care positions don’t require higher education, our country views this traditionally female occupation as low-skilled. And in spite of mounting evidence regarding the importance of early childhood care and education, we still don’t tend to view child care workers as teachers. We’ve never truly respected the work of caregivers, and that attitude is reflected in their paycheck.

So if the people we’re paying to care for our children are so poorly paid, why do most families spend more on childcare than they do on food? The answer lies in the regulations that govern child care centers.

Centers are required to keep high staff-child ratios. For infant care, states can require daycares to have as many as one staff person for every three kids. For toddlers, the staff-child ratio is lower, but centers still might need at least one staff person for every six kids. Furthermore, the law might limit the total group size, even if the required ratio is met. A classroom of two-year-olds, for example, could not be any bigger than 10-12 children. 

The high staffing requirement isn’t the only factor driving child care costs into the stratosphere. As a heavily regulated industry, even the square footage needed per child in classrooms and playgrounds can be dictated by state law. Childcares can’t downsize and risk overcrowding to reduce their costs, and thus in states with high rents and property values, child care costs are also high. Centers also face other costs – insurance, activities, supplies, and professional development and training.

With daycare already being one of the single largest (if not the largest) cost most families face, the best option for centers to keep their costs competitive is to keep wages as low as possible. 

As costs continue to grow, policy makers have started to recognize that something must be done. President-Elect Donald Trump has proposed relaxing the staff size requirements in order to lower tuition and raise employee wages. 

But experts say that reducing the number of educators and caregivers in a classroom also runs the risk of reducing the safety of the program. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Association for the Education of Young Children have long pointed to high staff-child ratios as a way to provide a safe, high quality educational environment for our youngest learners. While a deregulated free market approach might result in lower costs, it would almost certainly put low-income children whose families can’t afford to attend daycares with higher standards at a greater risk of receiving lower-quality care.

If we wish to keep parents – especially women – in the workforce, pay child care workers a living wage, and ensure the safety of all children, the best approach might be for government to invest in early care and education, just as it does with college.

Currently, parents pay about 60 percent of child care costs, with 40 percent being publicly funded. Most of this funding comes through sources such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Social Services Block Grant, or Head Start. Despite these programs to assist low-income families, the cost of care still remains a huge burden for many parents. 

By contrast, over three-quarters of the cost of public college is funded through state and federal funds. Less than a quarter comes directly from families. Early childhood care and education is an equally worthy investment for states and the federal government to make.

Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman has argued that the importance of high quality child care starts at birth, and that high quality programs for disadvantaged infants and toddlers can have a 13 percent yearly return on investment. Increasing public assistance for child care can help ease the burden many families feel, as well as benefit the economy, our children, and the workers who care for them.

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Finding the person you want to spend your life with is never easy, but when you're a parent, there's an extra layer of consideration. You're not just choosing the person you will spend lazy Sundays (and hurried weekday mornings) with—you're choosing the person your children will spend them with, too.

And when that person has children of their own, things get even more complicated. Blending two families isn't easy, but it can be beautiful, as Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez prove.

Each half of this power couple has two children each, and they're doing their best to make their relationship work not just for each other, but for those four children, too.

"We love each other and we love our life together," Lopez recently told People. "I was so loving to his kids and he was so loving and accepting of mine, and they embraced each other right away. [It was] 'I get a new bonus brother and sisters to hang out with all the time and it's nice.'"

A Rod agrees, telling People: "Our kids have become best friends and that keeps us both grounded and appreciative."

Here are five ways J Lo and A-Rod are totally #parentinggoals when it comes to balancing the needs of their blended family.

1.They bring the kids together

Lopez and Rodriguez each spend time with their own children, but they also bring all four kids (Lopez shares 10-year-old twins Maximilian and Emme with her ex, Marc Anthony, and Rodriguez shares daughters Ella, 10, and Natasha, 13, with his ex, Cynthia Scurtis) together for fun family outings, like ice cream dates and basketball games.

Research indicates that about 14% of kids in step families don't feel like they belong in their family, and report that their family doesn't have fun together. By bringing the kids together for fun family times, Lopez and Rodriguez are encouraging a sense of family belonging outside the relationship they have with each of the kids individually. Studies suggest an adolescents' sense of family belonging is linked to their overall well-being. So this ice cream date is actually healthy, in a way.

​2. They consider their children's other parents family, too

If their Instagrams are any indication, Rodriguez and Lopez have a great time hanging out with their blended family, but they understand that their children have other family members, too, and they don't mind hanging out with them.

A recent Instagram post proves Rodriguez considers Marc Anthony #famila, and that's how it should be.

Studies show supportive communication between a parent and their ex-partner's new partner is good for the family as a whole. Likewise, when the relationship between a parent and a stepparent is antagonistic, relationships beyond their own stuffer. It's truly better if a parent's co-parent and their current partner can hang.

3. They’re a united front with their co-parents

Rodriguez considers J Lo's ex family, and he also doesn't forget that (despite legal disagreements) his ex-wife plays a big role in his daughter's lives. So he celebrates their big co-parenting moments, like parent-teacher night.

Lopez, too, celebrates the times she and Anthony get together for their twins' big moments, recently telling Kelly Rippa the two are now in a really great place, and basically best friends. "The kids get to spend time with the two of us more together and see us working together," she said."It's just good for the whole family," says Lopez.

4. They make time for each other without the kids

Having all four kids together at once looks like fun, but hanging out with three 10-year-olds and a teen also sounds like it could be a little exhausting. That's why the couple takes time to unwind, without the kids, when they can.

As J Lo wrote in a recent Instagram post, "it's the lil quiet moments that matter the most."

5. They're doing it their way

Back in April Lopez was asked whether or not she and A Rod would be getting married soon (thanks to a Spanish language single "El Anillo," which is Spanish for "The Ring"), she told People, she's not in any rush, despite the song.

"I've done that before. I'm a little bit more grown up now, and I like to let things take their natural course," she said. "I know people are going to say that… we are really kind of good for each other and are really having the best time, and our kids love each other and all that."

[A version of this story was originally published July 12, 2018.]

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If you use U by Kotex tampons, you should check your box before your next period, mama.

Regular absorbency U by Kotex Sleek Tampons are being recalled throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to the FDA, defective tampons have been coming apart when people tried to remove them, "in some cases causing users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body."

The FDA notes that there have also been a "small number of reports of infections, vaginal irritation, localized vaginal injury, and other symptoms."

In a statement on its website, U by Kotex explains that the recall is specific to the U by Kotex Sleek Tampons, Regular Absorbency only. The Super Absorbency or Super Plus Absorbency tampons are not part of the recall.

The recall is for specific lots of the Regular Absorbency tampons manufactured between October 7, 2016 and October 16, 2018.

The lot numbers start with NN (or XM, for small, 3 count packages) and can be found near the barcode on the bottom of the box.

To check if your tampons are part of the recall, type your lot number into this form on the U by Kotex site.


The FDA says if you've used the tampons and are experiencing the following you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • vaginal injury (pain, bleeding, or discomfort)
  • vaginal irritation (itching or swelling)
  • urogenital infections (bladder and/or vaginal bacterial and/or yeast infections)
  • hot flashes
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting

If you have a package of the recalled tampons you should not use them and should call Kotex's parent company, Kimberly-Clark at 1-888-255-3499. On its website U by Kotex asks consumers not to return the tampons to stores.

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I grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air so pretty much anytime Will Smith pops up on my Facebook feed, I click. (Also, I happen to live near West Philadelphia, so you know, there's a lot of theme song singing. My husband finds me hysterical.)

Anyway...

The last time I clicked on a Will Smith video, he was telling a story about when he went skydiving. He had made the decision to go with his friends, and then spent the whole night and morning leading up to it terrified, envisioning all the things that could go wrong.

When he was finally up in the plane, the guide explained that they would jump on the count of three. "One… two…" except they push you out on "two" because everyone throws their arms out and stops themselves at "three." So before he knew it, he was flying.

And he found it to be absolutely amazing.

He said, "The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It's bliss. The lesson for me was, why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? You're nowhere even near the airplane. Everything up to the stepping out, there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day… the best things in life [are] on the other side of [fear]."

Motherhood is skydiving.

If someone came up to you one day and said, "Hey. I have this job for you. You are going to grow a human in your body, kind of like it's an alien. And then that human is going to come out of your body—and that process is really intense. And then the human will be really helpless and you will have to turn it into a fully functioning adult with an important place in this world. Okay… go!"

You'd smile politely and walk run away as fast as you could.

Because if you think about it, the idea of doing all of that—motherhoodis pretty terrifying. The amount of responsibility and work is sort of incomprehensible.

The grand scheme of motherhood is scary.

The thing is, though, that the grand scheme of motherhood is actually made up of millions of tiny moments in which you will be a total boss.

Whether it's a jump-out-of-the-plane moment, or a get-the-toddler-out-of-the-car-seat moment, you will face it with bravery.

Remember, being brave isn't the absence of fear, it's being afraid and doing it anyway.

Being brave is taking a pregnancy test—and seeing that it's positive. Or seeing that it's negative, again.

Being brave is waiting for the adoption agency to call you and tell you that she's here.

Being brave is watching your body change in a hundred ways, and lovingly rubbing your belly as it does.

Being brave is giving your body over to the process of bringing your baby into the world—yes, even if you cry, or complain, or cry and complain. You're still brave. Promise.

Being brave is bringing that baby home for the first time. Oh, so much bravery needed for that one.

Being brave is giving that first bath, going to that first pediatrician visit, spending that first full day at home, alone, with the baby,

Being brave is your first day back at work—or making the phone call to tell them you won't actually be coming back at all.

Being brave is ignoring all the noise around you, and parenting your child the way you know is best for your family.

Being brave is letting go of her hands when she takes her first steps.

Being brave is sitting next to her and smiling when you're in the emergency room for croup—and then sobbing when you get home.

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of school—and going home without her.

Being brave is saying "yes" to her first sleepover and "no" to her first car.

Being brave is hugging her the first time her heart breaks, when your heart might possibly hurt even more than hers does.

Being brave is listening quietly when she tells you she plans to "travel the world."

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of college—and going home without her.

Being brave is watching her commit her life to another person, who is not you.

Being brave is watching her become a mother.

And one day, sweet, brave mama, you'll look back and realize that you just jumped out of an airplane—you raised a child.

All of the things that seemed terrifyingly impossible—you just…do them. One at a time. You will wake up every day a little bit braver than the day before. And before you know it, you can look back on any aspect of motherhood and realize that little by little, you just increased your flying altitude.

Things that was seemed daunting are handled with ease. Ideas that once seemed impossible have become your reality one thousand times over.

So yes, motherhood is incredibly scary. But you are incredibly brave.

One... two... jump!

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Here at Motherly, we're all in on pregnant mamas. We love all things pregnancy science: from how a woman's body absorbs her baby's cells, and the effect of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss. We fawn over the latest + greatest in baby names. And we adore a good celeb baby bump picture.

So we're thrilled for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, royal newlyweds expecting their first child together in the Spring of 2019.

And recently, when the Duchess presented a British Fashion Award to the designer behind her wedding dress (Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller) we were not thrilled when headlines suggested Markle "showing off" her bump by cradling it during the awards show.

Here's the deal: When media outlets make note of a pregnant woman whose bump is visible, they often report that the woman is out "flaunting" her belly.

PSA: Pregnant women do not "flaunt" their bodies.

They aren't "showing off their baby bumps."

They're not "taking their bellies out for a day on the town."

They're simply women who are pregnant, going about their daily lives.

This might seem like a small point, quibbling about particular words about pregnancy.

But in reality, acting like pregnant women are "flaunting" their bellies reflects a society that sees pregnancy as a sideshow, rather than a natural part of womanhood. It makes pregnant women feel like weirdos, rather than integral bearers of the future of humanity. It tells women, yet again, that their changing bodies are up for public critique. And it implies to women that the natural changes in their bodies are strange, rather than a normal evolution in life.

So yes, Meghan's baby bump is visible. How exciting for her!

She's not 'flaunting it,' proud mama-to-be though she is.

Meghan Markle is simply rocking her life as a modern woman (and royal), and pregnancy looks amazing on her.

[A version of this story was originally published October 24, 2018]

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