Child care workers make very low wages, and over 90 percent cannot afford a one-person family budget in most metro and rural areas in the country, according to new research from the Economic Policy Institute.
The liberal think tank analyzed the characteristics of the 1.2 million child care workers in the United States, most of whom are female. Among the findings, more than one-third of child care workers "live below twice the poverty line, which is often used as a cutoff for whether a family is able to make ends meet."
Child child workers earn a median hourly wage of $10.31, and they don't receive many employer-provided benefits, like health insurance or pension coverage, the research showed.
"While quality child care is a large expense, it's not because child care workers are overpaid," said EPI senior economist and report author Elise Gould. "Despite the critical role they play in the economy, child care workers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the country. We need a bold solution to improve the working conditions of child care workers and make child care accessible at the same time."
Child care workers with the Fight for $15 movement weighed in on the new EPI research.
"I don't need a study to tell me how hard it is to raise kids on the low wages. I nurture and educate my community's children, but I can barely afford to put food on the table for my own kids," said Tolanda Barnette, a child care worker and mother of three from Durham, North Carolina. Barnette makes $12 an hour.
"Elected leaders talk all the time about the importance of education and family, and they cannot delay any longer on fixing our child care system," she added. "We want elected officials - and candidates - to know child care providers and parents are standing together and voting for people who support our children's bright futures."
EPI's report was released the same day the Fight for $15 campaign announced plans for a massive protest next Tuesday. Child care workers are among those set to rally across the country in 500 cities next week with fast food and other low-wage workers to call for a $15 minimum wage and union rights.
The research also comes amid a battle over Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's drastic cuts to the state's Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which helps low-income working families afford day care.
On July 1, when the state entered the new fiscal year without a budget, the Rauner administration tightened CCAP eligibility requirements to the point where an estimated 90 percent of new applicants are now ineligible. The administration said the CCAP cuts, implemented through the use of emergency rulemaking, were necessary in order to manage the state's finances without a budget.
Democrats, who control the state legislature, vehemently oppose the CCAP cuts and are looking to pass legislation that would undo the administration's changes to the program.
In August, the Senate passed a bill, SB 570, that would do just that. But the legislation fell one vote shy of advancing in the House in September. The House, however, is expected to vote on the measure next week.
Rauner is trying to thwart the bill. His administration sent a memo Wednesday to lawmakers, urging them to reject SB 570 because it would result in "high costs and unintended consequences" for the state.
According to the administration, the bill would "add $220 million in program costs for the duration of Fiscal Year 2016 and have an annualized cost in excess of $800 million."
"It increases the deficit, restricts an administration's ability to manage it to draw federal dollars and comply with changing federal rules and locks in place the type of financial scheme that has caused Illinois to deficit spend for years," the memo said. "The bottom line: a vote for SB 570 is a vote to increase the budget deficit and force a massive tax increase on the people of Illinois."
Beth Berendsen, a child care research analyst at SEIU* Healthcare Illinois, released a statement Wednesday breaking down what she argues is the real message in Rauner's memo:
His unprecedented eligibility requirements, which have made Illinois dead last in the nation in providing safe and affordable child care to working parents, truly are destroying the program.
The Rauner justification, released in advance of an expected vote Nov. 10 on SB570 and most certainly meant to influence wavering members of his caucus, states that more than 90,000 children currently are receiving CCAP subsidies. This number represents a reduction of 80,000 in the average number of children served in the previous eight years. The 90,000 figure also represents a decrease BY HALF of the children that were served in FY2015. This is devastating.
What Rauner did today is reveal a program deterioration so rapid that it is a drop of 70,000 children being served in just three months-- down from the 160,000 figure provided by the former state CCAP administrator, Linda Saterfield, in her August 11th testimony to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a statement that led to her dismissal for openly admitting that the impact of Rauner's cuts would be 'devastating.' She was right.
Recent research has shown that more than 1 in 5 children in Illinois are living in poverty, meaning more than 600,000 children. In Illinois, a recent report from the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute showed that a full-time minimum-wage earner would have to spend 74% of their annual earnings on child care for an infant without assistance. And yet, under the rules justified in what Rauner released today, full-time minimum wage earners no longer qualify for CCAP. How can this be justified?
Work supports, including the Child Care Assistance Program, are vital to helping low-income parents continue to work and access high-quality child care which improve child outcomes and stability, goals to which Rauner has professed. But the number that Rauner now boasts about--90,000 children currently being served-- represents a heartbreaking loss of opportunity for 90,000 others without his level of personal fortune. It also reminds us that he is interested exclusively in political power and has no concept or care in investing in real solutions to help the struggling families of Illinois.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders say CCAP is crucial support for low-income working families, and they disagree with the administration's move to cut it.
"They want to deny child care services to a whole segment of the Illinois population for bottom-line dollars and cents without regard to how many families this throws into chaos," said Steve Brown, House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman. "We think allowing single parents to continue to work is a better outcome."
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.