A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

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

Print Friendly and PDF

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.

FEATURED VIDEO

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.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


You might also like:

Learn + Play

If there's one item that people claim is *so* worth the price-tag, it's a Dyson vacuum. The cordless tools have become essentials in homes, cleaning up messes quickly, all without the hassle of a cord.

If you've avoided purchasing one because of the high cost, you're in luck! They're having a sale on Amazon right now. Some of the most popular vacuums and air purifiers are up to 40% off.

Dyson Cyclone V10 Lightweight Cordless Stick Vacuum Cleaner, $379.99

dyson vacuum on sale

Arguably the most popular of the Dyson family, and marked down 20%.

BUY

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

You might also like:

Shop

Beyoncé's new Netflix documentary Homecoming hit the streaming service today and gives us an honest look at how difficult her twin pregnancy was.

"My body went through more than I knew it could," she says in the film, revealing that her pregnancy with Sir and Rumi was a shock right from the beginning, and the surprises kept coming.

In the film she reveals that her second pregnancy was unexpected, "And it ended up being twins which was even more of a surprise," she explains.

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé | Official Trailer | Netflix

The pregnancy was rough. Beyoncé developed preeclampsia, a condition that impacts about 5 to 8% of pregnancies and results in high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the mother's urine. Preeclampsia poses risks to both the mother and the baby. People who are pregnant with multiples, like Beyoncé was, are more at risk to develop preeclampsia, and the only real cure for the condition is to give birth, which proved to be another medical challenge for Beyoncé.

"In the womb, one of my babies' hearts paused a few times so I had to get an emergency C-section," she shares in the film.

Thankfully, Beyoncé made it through her extremely difficult pregnancy, but the physical challenges didn't end there. The road to rehabilitation for the performer was difficult because, as she explains, she was trying to learn new choreography while her body was repairing cut muscles and her mind just wanted to be home with her children.

FEATURED VIDEO

"There were days that I thought I'd never be the same. I'd never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same," Beyoncé recalls.

We know that becoming a mother changes us in so many ways, and in Homecoming, Beyoncé shows the world the strength that mothers possess, and rejects any ideas about "bouncing back."

Becoming a mother is hard, but it is so worth it, and Beyoncé isn't looking backward—she's looking at a mother in the mirror and loving who and what she sees. "I just feel like I'm just a new woman in a new chapter of my life and I'm not even trying to be who I was," Beyoncé said in the documentary. "It's so beautiful that children do that to you."

You might also like:

News

Warmer weather is finally here, mama—and that means it's time to switch up the family's wardrobes. 🙌 If you love matching with your little, or are determined to *finally* get those family photos made this spring or summer, we're obsessed with these mommy and me matching sets.

Here are some of our favorite mommy and me matching outfits for spring. 😍

1. Ivy City Co Jumpsuits, $42.00-$62.00

mommy and me matching jumpsuits

This linen set is perfect for transitioning from hanging out at home to dressing up for days out. Plus, plenty of space for growth!

BUY

2. Madewell x crewcuts Denim Set, $55.00 and up

mommy and me matching denim set

We're obsessed with the '90s vibes these sets give. Now to decide which to choose—denim jacket, shorts, or dress?

BUY

3. Old Navy Floral Midi Dresses, $10.00-$22.50

Old navy mommy and me matching dresses

Nothing says spring quite like florals. The whimsical prints are dainty and the rayon fabric is breathable for those warmer days. Shop mama's version here.

BUY

4. PatPat Matching Family Swimwear, $19.99 and up

matching family swimwear

Match with the entire family with this pinstripe set. We love the one shoulder look, too!

BUY

5. Keds x Rifle Paper Co Sneakers, $44.95-$79.95

mommy and me matching shoes

Twin with your little in these embroidered canvas sneakers. Bonus points for a rubber outsole so no slipping. 👏Shop the version for mama here.

BUY

6. Lily Pulitzer Shift Dresses, $58.00-$198.00

Lilly pulitzer matching dresses

Still not sure what to wear for Easter or that summer soirée? Pick up these matching shift dresses for the most beautiful family photos. Shop mama's version here.

BUY

7. Maisonette x marysia Swimwear, $57.00 and up

Mommy and me matching swimwear

These are definitely splurge-worthy, but we can't get over how adorable they pair together.

BUY

8. PatPat Gingham Dresses, $17.99-23.99

mommy and me matching gingham dresses

These will be your go-to pick for every outing this spring and summer.

BUY

9. Old Navy Striped Oxford Shirts, $13.00-$22.00

matching striped oxford shirts

A relaxed oxford is a staple in everyone's closet. It's versatile enough to dress up or pair with denim for a more laid back look. Shop mama's version here.

BUY

10. Pink Chicken Garden Dress, $72.00-$198.00

pink chicken matching garden dress

Whether you have a spring wedding to attend or want something flowy to wear for vacation, we adore these garden dresses. Bonus points for working for maternity wear, too.

BUY

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

You might also like:

Shop

Being a perfectionist has naturally been part of who I was since as long as I can remember. I could blame living in the continental U.S., where perfectionism is highly esteemed, or the family dynamics that come with growing up in a household of five women.

Deep down, though, I think it all really stems from a deep and instinctual longing to be loved, accepted and approved. Whatever the reason, it has never really been a part of me that I considered a problem.

That is, until, I became a mom.

When I had my first child, I did the best I could to keep it all together, to prevent people from seeing how my perfection was being pulled apart at the seams.

A nap schedule was, of course, essential. My son was easygoing and slept through the night like an angel baby. My house was still spotless and I managed to somehow work part-time and keep healthy meals on the table every night, but I did struggle tremendously with breastfeeding.

Since I took this failure as a great assault at my abilities to properly nurture my child, I let mom guilt run rampant over the issue. I decided I would just step up my perfect-parenting game in another way by pumping breastmilk around the clock until my son was around 18 months old.

FEATURED VIDEO

For anyone who has ever exclusively pumped, you know it can become total madness and take away the joy of feeding your child.

Managing a toddler was definitely wild, but with my background in pediatrics, I knew how to keep him busy while I kept things "under control." In other words, with just one child, I could still play the part of being perfect. All was fine until I became a mom of two children. It wasn't long after my daughter was born that I realized I needed to start letting go of perfection.

I was living alone in a new city with no help and my husband worked long hours. Managing a 2-year-old and a newborn, all while trying to keep a perfectly clean house and healthy dinners on the table every night, was, to my surprise, impossible in every way. My body was a wreck, not "bouncing back" as it did with my first. My daughter never slept for more than three hours until she was over a year old. She cried for hours on end most nights, as I tried relentlessly to calm her.

I remember bouncing her in her carrier for hours trying to get her to calm down and settle in for sleep. Meanwhile, I was a zombie and my son tore every square inch of the house into pieces. Keeping a naptime schedule was nearly impossible with another child to consider. Dinner was often takeout. There were days when I didn't look in the mirror or have proper clothing on until 5 pm.

The demands of motherhood laughed at my idea of picture-perfect motherhood. Every night I went to bed feeling like I had failed my children. I cried. Oh man, did I cry.

It wasn't long until I came to the realization that if I wanted to be a good mom, that is, to focus on things that are actually important, I had to stop sweating all the small stuff.

Even though I didn't really know how I was relieved that I didn't have to keep up with myself anymore. I had grown so weary of the high standards I had set for myself and those around me. I wanted a way out of the perfectionist trap and to loosen the reigns.

I realized that the most beautiful encounters with my children had been when I decided to say, "Oh, don't worry about it!" (i.e. the house, dinner, naptime schedules, etc). Love and joyful encounters with my children was incomparable to the latter. I knew my children needed me to look at them and not the 3-day- old stain on the dining room floor. The beauty in the moments, when I intentionally chose stillness and gratitude over productivity, was the reason I decided it was time to lay down a life-long pattern of perfectionism and control.

The problem was, I didn't really know where to start. I had been living this way for more than three decades. But I did know that I needed to start somewhere. So I started practicing being imperfect. Just like I had been teaching my 4-year old son. "The only way to get better at something is by practicing," I would tell him.

So, I did. And so I still am, practicing being imperfect.

You might also like:

Life
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.