Child care costs high for parents, low wages for staff

GREENSBORO, NC — To understand the problems that Democrats hope to solve with their supersized plan to make childcare better and more affordable, consider this small Southern town where many parents are paying mortgages. Yet teachers get paid like fast food. Staff and centers can’t keep enough staff.

With its white columns and high stairs, Friendly Avenue Baptist Church evokes a confusing past when fathers go to work, mothers stay home, and education begins when children are five years old. But its sought-after preschool exposes the dilemmas of modern family life.

Until their eldest son started kindergarten, Jessica and Matt Lawley paid about $2,000 a month to care for their two boys—about a third of their income and far more than what they paid on their three-bedroom home. more. But one teacher who sees the boys earns so little — $10 an hour — that she spends half her time working at Starbucks, where the pay is 50 percent higher and includes health insurance.

The center’s directors want to raise wages, but have little room to spend for parents who are already stretched out. She has been trying to replace a teacher since February who quit without warning; Four applicants took turns taking jobs, but none showed up.

“I’ve been an administrator for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said director Sandy Johnson. “Directors are at the point where they’re willing to hire anyone who walks through the door. Kids deserve so much more than that, and families deserve so much more.”

Democrats describe the problem as a fundamental market failure – it costs more to provide care than many families do – and are pushing for an unusually ambitious plan to bridge the gap with federal subsidies.

The massive social policy bill being pushed by President Biden would limit families’ child care expenses to 7 percent of their income, provide large subsidies to child care centers, and increase wages to centers in hopes of improving the quality of teachers. would be required. An edition before the House would cost $250 billion over a decade, and within a few years annual spending would increase fivefold or more. An additional $200 billion will provide universal preschools.

“This will be the largest investment in child care history,” said Stephanie Schmidt, an analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a research group that supports the measure. “For too long, parents have struggled with the high cost of care, while child care providers have been paid incredibly low and low. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do it right for everyone. It’s an opportunity.”

Prospects remain uncertain for a comprehensive bill, which includes new educational, health care and child-rearing subsidies. Some Democrats balked at Biden’s request for $3.5 trillion over 10 years and proposed a figure closer to $2 trillion.

Republicans strongly oppose the expansion of the protection system, saying it is unaffordable and smacks of socialism, and some conservatives warn that child care provisions will drive up costs, impose cumbersome rules, and lead to informal care-preferring mothers. Father will be punished.

As Democrats describe it, child care is not only an issue of family finances but also macroeconomics (parents need it to join the work force); brain development (most of which occurs before children go to school); and racial equality (the low-wage workforce is made up of minorities).

In Greensboro, parents know little about the Democrats’ plan, but little is known about the cost of childcare, which will require them to reconfigure work hours, postpone purchases of cars and equipment. , or cause them to have fewer children than they would like.

“We had no idea child care would cost that much,” said Ms. Lawley, who works in human resources for the public school system and whose husband sells plumbing fixtures at Lowes. “There’s no way we can have another baby.”

Greensboro has been a center of child care advocacy since at least the early 1990s, when local organizers helped lead a national campaign called Qualified Wages, which sought to raise wages and improve working conditions. The state government is also known as a leader. It offers scholarships to child care workers who want more education and runs two wage-subsidy programs, which together reach one in eight child care workers and provide an average bonus of about $2,400 annually.

Nevertheless, the problem of high costs and low wages remains.

“What North Carolina has done is great, but it is going to divert the resources of the federal government on the scale that we need,” said Rosemary Wordell, a retired professor who led the Worthy Pay campaign. helped to do.

The Treasury Department reported last month that the average cost of care is about $10,000 per child per year and spends about 13 percent of a family’s income, which the government considers affordable. Also, it noted that the average teacher earns about $24,000 per year, many live in poverty, and about half receive some public assistance.

“It’s one of the lowest-paid of all occupations,” said Lee JE Austin of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. “People have a hard time seeing that this is a complex, specialized task.”

The corona virus epidemic has made the problem worse. Competing employers have raised wages, and some teachers are afraid to supervise children who may not be vaccinated or masked. Nationally, the workforce has declined by about 12 percent from pandemic levels.

Johnson, the director of Friendly Avenue, said on a recent call with other Greensboro administrators: “Everyone I know has significantly increased entry-level salaries, and we are nowhere close to being able to fill positions. “

“Ditto!” Said Donna Denzi, who runs two high-end centers. “The number of people who are interested in doing this kind of work is dwindling. They are not seeing the joy.”

“There are really great centers out there that have had to close,” said another director, Devon Walton. “We have a mile long waiting list.”

While directors say they can’t get hired, teachers say they can’t pay their bills. By earning $10 an hour at Little Leaders Learning Academy, Uvika Joseph, a single mother, got food stamps and Medicaid for her three children. She just left to become an assistant in public schools, where she expects to earn almost double the amount and will get health insurance.

“The only reason I leave is salary,” she said. “I love children.”

To meet her needs, Rachel Myers, who has an associate’s degree in early childhood education, splits a 60-hour work week between the Friendly Avenue Center and Starbucks. He called the Democrats’ wage-raising plan “amazing” and overdue.

“I make $10 an hour shaping kids’ futures but $15 an hour to give someone a cup of coffee,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Lower wages lead to higher turnover, which the Treasury Department said was at least 26 percent annually. Friendly Avenue teacher, April Harden Crocker, has taught for nearly three decades—”It’s my passion, this is my heart, I just have to do it”—but she cautions that employee churn damages care.

“Kids don’t like strangers’ faces — if you keep bringing new people in, they get really upset,” she said. “If the pay was better, we would have got more dedicated people.”

Child care is expensive because it is labor intensive. Many centers spend half or more of their budget on salaries, so raising salaries has a huge financial impact. Under the Democrats’ plan, the federal government would cover all new costs for the first three years, but the states would then pay 10 percent.

It is unclear how much the Democrats will raise the salary. The House bill states that child care workers must receive a “living wage,” which it does not define, but it also states that they should be paid the same credentials as primary teachers, with a different standard .

Other uncertainties remain. Mr Biden proposed subsidies for about three-quarters of households excluding the most affluent households. But the House edition covers all.

Beyond legislative expansion, progressives are calling for a paradigm shift. They view child care like public education: a service on which society depends and therefore must be ensured.

“This is a public good and should be treated as such,” said Julie Kashen, a Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation. “The shared stake in watching children thrive doesn’t start suddenly when they’re five years old.”

But conservatives fear government intrusion into the family circle. Rachel Grezler, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation, recently warned Congress that the measure would increase costs and put smaller centers out of business, particularly those located in homes and churches. She also said the policy would penalize stay-at-home parents, tax them for expanding center-based care, and ignore the “tremendous personal and social value” of full-time child parenting.

Ms Lawley said she thought about staying home after having a second child but needed health insurance along with her job.

“Oh my god, it was horrible,” she said of the cost of taking care of the two kids more than $20,000 a year. She hung on with significant help from her parents, knowing “we won’t have the baby in day care forever.” Most Greensboro parents asked about the bill agreed that the problem it tackles is serious, but their views on federal aid differ.

“I’d love for this to pass,” freight broker Melissa Robertson said after hearing a summary of the legislation. He and his wife said their two children are thriving at the Wishview Children’s Center, but it costs twice their mortgage, and that lack of childcare forces Ms. Robertson to work from home several days a week.

“It can be kind of difficult when you have a screaming child in the background,” she said. “Sometimes clients are like, ‘Oh, can’t you bring them to child care? With the ideal of two working parents, she said, “we should be able to provide child care.”

But another Worldview parent, Jamie Pritchard, had reservations. She and her husband, Matt, who work at the same insurance firm, have three children and pay about $34,000 per year. “Basically, my paycheck goes to pay for child care,” she said.

Still, she warned that subsidies could lead to higher taxes. “If we weren’t financially stable, we would all be there for him,” she said. “But I’ve always felt that if we’re getting help, the money must come from somewhere.”

Ms. Lawley knew nothing of the plan until a reporter described it and reacted with anxious enthusiasm. He praised the potential financial relief and “wonderful” help for teachers, whom he called dedicated and “very little paid”.

But she also said that federal funding often brings in federal regulations.

“If it will make things worse for the school in any way,” she said, “I would personally proceed to continue paying the bills.”

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