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News from EPI Child care workers are among the lowest paid in the country

Despite their essential role, child care workers are among the lowest-paid workers in the country, according to a new analysis from EPI senior economist Elise Gould. In Child care workers aren’t earning enough to make ends meet, Gould examines the characteristics of child care workers, including demographics, how much they earn, whether they receive benefits, and whether they are able to make ends meet.

“While quality child care is a large expense, it’s not because child care workers are overpaid,” said Gould. “Despite the critical role they play in the economy, child care workers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the country. We need a bold solution to improve the working conditions of child care workers and make child care accessible at the same time.”

Key findings of the report include:

  • There are 1.2 million child care workers, which includes workers caring for children in day care centers, in preschools, as nannies, and through religious organizations.
  • 95.6 percent of child care workers are female, and child care workers are disproportionately people of color.
  • The median hourly wage for child care workers is $10.31, 39.3 percent lower than workers in other occupations.
  • Child care workers rarely receive benefits such as health insurance or pension coverage.
  • Over one-third of child care workers live below twice the poverty line, which is often used as a cutoff for whether a family is able to make ends meet.

The paper contains several interactive maps that show, among other facts, that:

  • In the majority of metro and rural areas across the country, more than 90 percent of child care workers (excluding preschool workers) cannot meet the requirements of their local one-person family budget.
  • In 32 states and the District of Columbia, center-based infant care costs are equal to more than one-third of a typical preschool worker’s earnings.
  • In 21 states and the District of Columbia, non-preschool child care workers would have to spend over half of their annual earnings to pay for center-based infant care.

Child care workers are critical to the U.S. economy. The availability of high-quality child care lets parents pursue employment outside the home and gives children a stimulating and nurturing environment to learn and grow in. It is crucial to pay child care workers decent wages in order to attract and retain the best workers.

Policies to solve the problems of low pay for child care workers on the one hand and the high cost of child care on the other should be considered at all levels of government. Solutions should be at the scale of the problem, and could range from income-based subsidies to public provision of child care.