Childcare is really expensive. In some states the costs can top 15 percent of the median income for a married couple. And when looking at single-family households, that burden can easily pass 40 percent of the median income.
One place all that money is not going: the pockets of the workers doing all that childcare. On average, these women (it’s almost entirely women) are paid significantly less than the average American worker and are twice as likely to live in poverty, a new study released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found. The median hourly wage for childcare workers in the U.S. is $10.39, nearly 40 percent below the median hourly wage of workers in other occupations. Even when accounting for the demographic makeup of the childcare industry—workers are more likely to be minorities, much more likely to be women, and less likely to have a bachelor’s or advanced degree—their earnings were still 23 percent lower than in other occupations. Childcare workers also had less access to benefits, such as health insurance and retirement funds, than people employed in other fields.
Elise Gould, a senior economist at EPI and the author of the study, says that often people think of childcare workers as somewhat similar to elementary-school teachers, since they are providing care and enrichment for children all day (albeit with fewer required credentials). But the compensation for childcare workers more closely mirrors that of a cashier or a food-service worker than a teacher, she says.
As a part of her analysis, Gould tried to determine if these workers could afford childcare services for their own kids. “The exercise to see whether or not childcare workers can afford childcare might sound cute, but it’s actually distressing,” she says. That’s because the answer was by and large, no. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for childcare to be considered “affordable” it should cost no more than 10 percent of a family’s income (a figure that will surely seem like a bargain to many readers). Gould found that, on average, childcare would cost childcare workers closer to one-third of their salary.