How Can Childcare Be So Pricey While Childcare Workers Barely Earn a Living Wage? 


For families with kids, the cost of childcare can be scarier than the prospect of Donald Trump or Ben Carson actually becoming President. The service is wildly expensive—so much so that childcare workers themselves are essentially unable to afford it themselves.

According to Atlantic writer Gillian B. White, childcare can amount to 15 percent of a married couple’s income and 40 percent for a single parent, depending on state of residence. A new study from the Economic Policy institute says that the breakdown is even worse for the sitters themselves.

The median hourly wage for childcare workers in the U.S. is $10.39, nearly 40 percent below the median hourly wage of workers in other occupations. Even when accounting for the demographic makeup of the childcare industry—workers are more likely to be minorities, much more likely to be women, and less likely to have a bachelor’s or advanced degree—their earnings were still 23 percent lower than in other occupations. Childcare workers also had less access to benefits, such as health insurance and retirement funds, than people employed in other fields.

And so, childcare workers cannot afford the services that they provide.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for childcare to be considered “affordable” it should cost no more than 10 percent of a family’s income (a figure that will surely seem like a bargain to many readers). Elise Gould, a senior economist at EPI and the author of the study, found that, on average, childcare would cost childcare workers closer to one-third of their salary.

White writes that most people think childcare workers and teachers are paid similarly. That’s not the case. A daycare worker’s take-home pay is much closer to that of a store cashier or fast food worker. One daycare owner named Betty Henderson says the costs of “paying the teachers, providing food, educational resources, rent, light, gas, water, Internet, landline phone, all of those things that are mandated” eat up her budget. The financial bite also makes it tough to compensate her workers fairly—she says she has little left over after paying them just $9 an hour.

Potential solutions to this problem include universal pre-K, childcare subsidies, or a miracle.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Image via Shutterstock.

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