Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

child care

Nancy Harvey, who runs a child day care service out of her home in Oakland, Calif., plays with children on May 19, 2017. (Photo: Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Around 1 in 3 Child Care Workers Are Going Hungry

It's one thing to expect child care workers to get more education to become better at what they do. But it is also important to ensure that additional education pays off.

Colin Page McGinnis

 by The Conversation

Of the nearly one million child care workers in the United States, in a recent white paper, my colleagues and I found that 31.2% – basically 1 out of every 3 – experienced food insecurity in 2020, the latest year for which we analyzed data. Food insecurity means there is a lack of consistent access to enough food. This rate of food insecurity is anywhere from 8 to 20 percentage points higher than the national average.

As a result of low wages, more than 53% of child care workers received public assistance.

In Washington state and Texas, one study found 42% of child care workers experienced food insecurity, with 20% of child care workers experiencing very high food insecurity. High food insecurity is when a person reports reduced quality and variety of diet. Very high food insecurity occurs when a person reports disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.

Another study in Arkansas found that 40% of child care workers experienced food insecurity.

Effects of food insecurity

People who are food insecure are at increased chances of being poor health, with conditions like hypertension, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and depression, among other chronic diseases and health conditions.

Low wages and food insecurity may contribute to child care workers’ high stress levels. When child care workers experience stress, they tend to reduce the amount of positive attention to children and increase their punitive responses to children’s challenging behavior.

Causes of food insecurity

Overall, child care workers’ wages are low, with the median hourly wage being $12.24 per hour. This means child care workers make little more than fast-food workers, whose median pay is $11.64 per hour. What child care workers make is not considered a living wage.

As a result of low wages, more than 53% of child care workers received public assistance, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from 2014 to 2016. This compares with the 21% of elementary and middle school teachers who received public assistance in that period. When so many child care workers rely on public assistance, it reveals how many of them don’t make enough money to get by.

Nearly all U.S. child care workers are women, and half are people of color. This workforce is central to providing high-quality early childhood education to children up to 5 years old.

Early childhood researchers and policymakers have focused on increasing the education and training of the child care workforce to bolster quality. The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment recommends that lead teachers, the primary teachers in early childhood classrooms who are responsible for day-to-day management of a classroom, at least have a bachelor’s degree and that assistant teachers at least have a child development associate certificate or equivalent. Despite the fact that the more education child care workers have the higher-quality care they deliver, many states require only a high school diploma or equivalent, and some states do not have any education requirements for entry-level positions.

On average, child care workers who have a bachelor’s degree do make more than those who don’t. However, going to college doesn’t pay off as much for child care workers as it does for those in other fields. Child care workers with a bachelor’s degree average $14.70 per hour, which is just under half the average earnings overall of those with a bachelor’s degree – $27 per hour.

It’s one thing to expect child care workers to get more education to become better at what they do. But it is also important to ensure that additional education pays off.

Policymakers have recently focused on child care workers’ wages. For example, the Build Back Better legislation would raise payment rates to meet the cost of care for children from birth to 5 years old. The cost of care would include wages.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Colin Page McGinnis

Colin Page McGinnis

Colin is a doctoral candidate at the Ohio State University and chief executive officer at South Side Early Learning, an early childhood nonprofit in Columbus, Ohio that since 1922 has been working to ensure every child benefits from a holistic, high-quality early education.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Ocasio-Cortez: Maloney Should Quit DCCC Post If He Runs Against Mondaire Jones

"It's completely inappropriate" for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney to be in charge of the House Democrats' campaign arm "if he's going to challenge another member," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Kenny Stancil ·

War, Disasters Drive 'All-Time High' of Nearly 60 Million Displaced in Home Nations

The head of the Norwegian Refugee Council noted the situation "is phenomenally worse than even our record figure suggests" because it does not include those forced to flee Russia's assault on Ukraine.

Jessica Corbett ·

Global Climate Movement Warn Nations Have Just 6 Months to End Fossil Fuel Finance

"The pandemic has shown that governments can rapidly mobilize massive sums of public money," says one campaigner. "This is the moment to do it, and accelerate the transition."

Brett Wilkins ·

Analysis: 26 US Billionaires Paid Average Tax Rate of Just 4.8% in Recent Years

"When you include their untaxed wealth growth in the calculation, many billionaires pay almost nothing," said Frank Clemente of Americans for Tax Fairness.

Jake Johnson ·

'We Were Expecting This,' Says Family After Israel Says No Criminal Probe Into Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

The development came as leading international artists called for "meaningful measures to ensure accountability for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and all other Palestinian civilians."

Andrea Germanos ·

Common Dreams Logo