The child care crisis is a wage crisis

At the age of 9, Tasha Jackson was taking care of her younger siblings. Tasha quickly realized that she was good at it, and that she loved it. It was no surprise that Tasha grew up to be an early educator. She interned at the Ellis Early Learning Center and has been there ever since. Educating children is his passion.

But during our recent visit to Ellis’ new location in Jamaica Plain, Tasha shared a heartbreaking decision she is facing. Because teachers’ salaries are so low, Tasha worries that she cannot afford to raise a family of her own. She lives with her parents and has had a second and third job. But that’s not enough. Choosing a career in caring for other people’s children means she can’t afford to have her own.

Tasha’s experience as an early educator is unfortunately not unique. Not by far.

The Commonwealth’s preschool workforce, which is 92% women and 41% people of color, earn just $ 14 an hour. About 15% of them live in poverty, and a recent study found that 44% of teachers in children’s centers experienced food insecurity during the pandemic.

A preschooler stands up to reach her assigned locker at a preschool on Monday, October 25, 2021 in Mountlake Terrace, Wash. (Elaine Thompson)

As Congress considers an unprecedented investment of nearly $ 400 billion in our national early childhood education and care system as part of the Build Back Better Act, the central role that early childhood educators play must be in the foreground. We will not solve the child care crisis until we solve the child care problem Workforce crisis.

For families looking for child care, the already bleak landscape is getting worse. Before the pandemic, more than half of Massachusetts residents lived in child care deserts, where there are too few licensed providers for the number of children in need of care. This has a disproportionate impact on low income families. Today, we have 10% fewer child care spaces than before the pandemic.

As Tasha shared her potential need to leave the early childhood sector, she sat a few feet from an empty classroom. It is not a coincidence. Ellis has the space to enroll more families, but can’t until they can afford to hire more teachers.

When early childhood education and care centers cannot staff enough classrooms, it impacts everyone: children fall behind, parents are unable to work, small businesses close and the economy suffers. The pandemic has shown that when critical infrastructure like child care is forgotten, everyone suffers.

The impact on women is the most striking. Millions of women have left the labor market and nearly a million have stopped working altogether. The main obstacle that stands in their way is the lack of childcare services.

Choosing a career in caring for other people’s children means she can’t afford to have her own.

It is time to recognize that child care is critical infrastructure. Our current funding model, in which early childhood educators earn a pittance but parents still cannot afford child care, is unacceptable and unsustainable. We rely on the dedication of our early childhood educators to subsidize the care solutions our families depend on.

The model must change.

Fortunately, change is within our grasp. The Build Back Better law, passed last week by the House, ensures that eligible families will pay no more than 7% of their income for childcare and make unprecedented investments in raising the salaries of educators in early childhood. Additionally, in Massachusetts, Common Start legislation would put the Commonwealth ahead of almost every other state when it comes to transforming our early childhood education and care sector into one. system which provides affordable, high-quality care to families and pays educators their rightful wages. The bill would increase the affordability and quality of early childhood education and child care by providing funding to help reduce costs for families, while compensating providers for the true cost of providing care. quality care.

Simply “rebuild” at the unfair, The “normal” pre-COVID status quo is not enough. We owe it to educators, providers and families to finally implement meaningful change focused on the needs of the people. In Washington and here in the Commonwealth, we have the opportunity to make critical investments in child care – and in early childhood educators themselves – and chart the course for a fairer and more equitable future for all.

Let’s grab it.

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About Mark A. Tomlin

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