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Five things you should know about the people watching your children

June 29, 2018
Lillian Mongeau
Hechinger Report

More than 10 million children age 5 and younger spend their days in the care of 2 million adults who are not their parents. Those adults are mostly women and are disproportionately women of color. Even the best paid among them, those who teach kindergarten at public schools, are barely holding on to the bottom rungs of the middle class. Many live in poverty. Fifty-three percent of the child care workforce is enrolled in public assistance of some kind, compared to 21 percent of the U.S. workforce as a whole.

“Any woman doing ‘women’s work’ is not seen as skilled,” said Marcy Whitebook, co-director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index. All of the statistics cited above come from the new report.

“We have a history in this county of relying on poor women and women of color to take care of children of people who have more resources,” Whitebook said. “This idea that you can be working full-time taking care of someone else’s children and then worrying about feeding and clothing your own…” She trailed off and sighed. “In many countries there’s a gap. It’s just not as big.”

Whitebook has studied the plight of child care workers for more than 40 years. When first researching the issue in 1976, she was stunned to find a 1918 review of “day nurseries” in Chicago highlighting the problems with low pay and poor working conditions for nursery “matrons.”

One hundred years later, Whitebook said, we have the same problems.