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Who should pay for childcare?

I read a column yesterday about the conflict between the cost of daycare and the wages daycare workers earn. The author wrote in the context of eliminating academic programs that lead to low wage jobs. Childcare is one of those sectors where worker wages do not reflect the training and licensure required to do the job. Nor do they reflect the value of the work that childcare workers perform.

The author was torn between the need for community colleges to focus on living-wage jobs and the need for daycare. Many people believe that women have been slow to return to the workforce because they cannot find suitable daycare. More than 120,000 unfilled jobs in childcare – about 10% of the normal workforce -make it hard for families to find daycare. Circumstances that keep women out of the workforce (like lack of daycare) pose a literal threat to the US economy. Employment among women of childbearing age is down about 1.6M from the period just before the onset of the pandemic.

Right now, the average monthly daycare cost in Michigan exceeds $900 per child. Infant care costs average about $1,600 per month. Despite these astronomical costs, the average hourly wage for a daycare worker in Michigan is $10.65. That’s just over $22,000 per year for full-time work.

If affordable childcare is a matter of public policy, then having enough daycare workers is at the heart of the solution. However, asking these workers – primarily women – to work for barely more than the minimum wage so other households can make ends meet is unconscionable. People who perform valuable work have the right to expect adequate compensation for what they do.

Subsidize childcare similar to farming

If the federal government can set aside $20B annually for farm subsidies – which have little impact on the price of food and do not prevent or reduce rural poverty – then it can afford to create a similar subsidy for childcare workers. Subsidizing the wages of childcare workers at that level would add billions to each state’s economy and increase workers’ salaries by more than $15,000 per year.

If wage and benefits subsidies are not part of the solution, our current system of childcare provision is not sustainable. As a community, we should not endeavor to fund academic programs that consign their graduates to a lifetime of poverty. Regardless of the need for this work or its economic benefits, we should terminate programs that qualify graduates for welfare, while simultaneously bankrupting families that use the service. (Home health aids also fall squarely into this category.)

Discontinuing these programs may elevate the issue to the level where discussion about solutions is possible. Until then, WCC should not contribute to wage slavery by preparing students to work in this sector.

Photo Credit: Mark Belokopytov, via Flickr