You can’t have high-quality child care when caregivers live in poverty
State policies that support affordable, high-quality child care are common sense. Child care can help set up kids for success in school and later in life. It gives parents with young children the opportunity to work knowing their kids are safe. And with proper support from the state and federal government, child care can offer jobs with good wages so caregivers can live with dignity, and progress in their careers. In Ohio, the cost of child care is far too high for many families and child care workers are deeply undervalued, making just over $10 an hour on average.
New research from the Economic Policy Institute and the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment shows Ohio policymakers subsidize the state’s early childhood education system through low pay for early educators. Early childhood educators with a bachelor’s degree in Ohio are paid 26.5% less on average than their colleagues in the K-8 school system. Early educators are twice as likely to experience poverty than the average Ohio worker and 9.6 times more likely than other teachers. The table below highlights how low the median annual salary is for child care workers and preschool teachers compared to kindergarten and elementary school teachers.
These wages don’t provide security and stability for people who care for Ohio’s children, the vast majority of whom are women, and disproportionately women of color. Early educators face the constant stress of a poverty-wage job but are still expected to provide a caring, nurturing environment for children. That strain leads to high turnover, which also impacts the trust and personal connection required for high-quality care. Inadequate state and federal investment in our child care system means that the true costs get shifted onto the workers the system depends on.
Despite low wages for early educators, child care still costs too much for families. An earlier analysis from EPI found that the average cost of infant care in Ohio is $9,697 annually, or $808 per month. Infant care for one child takes up 16.9% of a median family’s income in Ohio, far higher than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services affordability standard of 7% of family income.
The situation is even more challenging for parents with low wages. In Ohio, six of the ten most common jobs pay so little that a parent working full time needs food assistance to feed a family of three. High-quality child care is out of reach for tens of thousands of Ohio parents who work full time. This is unacceptable.
Over the last several years, Ohio policymakers have focused efforts on improving the quality of child care in Ohio, because only 40% of children in Ohio start kindergarten ready to learn. High-quality child care and early education programs help kids perform better in math and reading and improve long-term economic opportunities. Key elements of quality include safety, child/teacher ratio, and skills and experience of early educators. The child care workforce is a critical foundation to ensure high-quality child care and early learning.
An improved early childhood education system would build capacity to provide high-quality early care for more children, help more families afford it, and ensure all early educators have competitive wages and live with dignity.
Two changes would move Ohio in this direction. First, a ballot initiative would raise Ohio’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2025, improving wages for hundreds of thousands of Ohio workers, if passed by voters this fall. Second, increasing initial eligibility for publicly funded child care in Ohio from 130% to 200% of the federal poverty level would help more parents afford high-quality child care for their children. A single mother raising an infant and a 4-year-old on $41,560 a year now spends $17,367 annually on child care. She makes too much to qualify for publicly funded child care. If Ohio lawmakers expand publicly funded child care to include her, she would pay roughly $810 annually on child care costs, saving $16,577 for other basic family expenses.
Children, families and early educators across the state would benefit tremendously from an increased minimum wage and a significant investment in early care and education. By paying early child care educators a competitive wage with benefits, we can create opportunities that offer a pathway to the middle class for those who do the crucial job of teaching our young children. By expanding eligibility, we can make sure more children are prepared to start kindergarten ready to learn and more parents have the opportunity to stay in the workforce.