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Taking Care of Our Caretakers

Executive Summary 

Child Care Workers High quality childcare is a necessity for women in America. Women make up close to half of the labor force in the United States, and most women with children have paying jobs. High quality, affordable child care is key to enabling mothers to participate in the paid work force and to be economically self-sufficient. Although availability and quality of child care has improved over the past few decades, working conditions for those women who care for children have changed little. The job of the child care worker remains low status, with poor wages, few benefits, and high levels of employee turnover, forcing women who are child care workers to work for wages that do not reflect their real contributions to society.

In 2008, there were 28,370 child care workers in Tennessee. The two largest employers of child care workers are (1) private household based care (24.4%) and (2) child day care center services (24.3%). The other half of all child care workers employed in Tennessee are hired by religious organizations, civic organizations, recreational businesses, residential care facilities, and colleges and universities. Wages and salaries are modest at best: an average of $8.80 per hour or $18,265 per year for full-time work across the state. There were 3,050 child care workers in the Memphis MSA in 2012, up from 2,750 in 2010. Wages in Memphis are similar to the overall Tennessee average: a mean of $8.60 per hour in 2012, up from an average of $8.31 in 2010. There is a very small range of salaries for this type of work, with entry level child care workers earning $8.10 per hour, and experienced workers earning $8.85 per hour.

This level of wages would provide a full-time, single individual with a yearly salary of $17,850 in 2012, 160% of the current poverty threshold for an individual. However, it is only 94% of the poverty threshold for a family of three. Importantly, the poverty threshold does not allow an individual or family to lead a life free of public subsidies. To earn a living wage in Memphis (e.g., a salary that would allow a one-adult family of three to be minimally independent of public subsidies) requires an hourly wage of $17.83 per hour or a full time salary of $35,666 per year. If an experienced child care worker, earning $8.85 per hour, wished to support her family at a living wage level, she would have to work close to 77 hours per week, almost twice the normal work week.

The plight of the child care worker is a classic example of domestic work that has been transformed into a market-based business. Though paid, the market shows little value for the child care worker. These (typically) women work in a secondary labor force on the periphery of the economy. Government regulations are non-existent, lax, or easy to avoid. Women who work as child care workers find the labor market crowded with applicants because the rules for entering this occupation are poorly defined. Rules for hiring, retention, and day-to-day activities tend to be vague and changeable. The job does not have specific or enforceable educational certifications. Enhanced educational qualifications often have little or no payoff in terms of wages. These jobs tend to have no career ladders to higher positions based on further education, performance, or seniority.

Child Care Workers Read the full report, Taking Care of our Caretakers: Elevating the Standard of Living for Child Care.

Thanks to David H Ciscel, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Memphis, for conducting the research for this report. Dr. Ciscel has specialized in labor market problems in the Memphis regional economy and has published many reports and articles on this issue. He is also Director of Memphis Forensic Economics, an economics consulting firm.

Taking Care of Our Caretakers: Elevating the Standard of Living for Child Care Workers was based of the original full report by Dr. Ciscel. Read Dr. Ciscel's original report on the state of child care workers here

Read Taking Care of Our Caretakers: Elevating the Standard of Living for Child Care Workers

Child Care Workers


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Last Updated: 2/24/14