Some Indiana child care workers find a living wage is out of reach

Kelly Dawn Jones never thought she would have to change her workplace in her home.

Jones founded Love Your Child’s Care 13 years ago. It is a home-based child care center that runs from a small cottage in southeast Indianapolis. She usually has anything from five to 12 children, from babies to age 11.

The spacious backyard has a colorful array of child-sized plastic chairs, a miniature swing set and toy cars. Inside, the 7-by-10-foot dining room functions as a classroom, sleeping area and sometimes a space where Jones teaches yoga.

It’s a tight squeeze. But when the apartment complex in which she and her two children lived caught fire last year, she said they had no choice but to move into the one-bedroom house where she works. Jones sleeps on a futon in the living room, and her children, ages 10 and 15, share the bedroom.

“It’s very stressful for all of us because there is absolutely no private space for us,” Jones said. “But we make it work, because we are so scarce.”

Like most childminders, Jones said she gets along with wages at the poverty level. Jones said her annual income fluctuates, but has sat at about $ 26,000 over the past few years. The average wage for childminders in the US in May 2021 was $ 11.43 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS defines a childminder as someone who cares for children at schools, businesses, private households, and childcare facilities.

Indiana Child Care Care with the national average, with an hourly wage of $ 11.64 and an average annual income of $ 24,210.

“Most of us are literally just planning to retire in poverty,” Jones said. “And if there is social security for us, we might have it. But most of us will be impoverished forever. ”

Only 15 percent of child care workers receive health insurance, compared to about half of all workers in other occupations. Over 1 in 10 childminders is covered by a pension plan, compared to 39 percent of workers in other occupations, according to a report by the left-wing think tank Economic Policy Institute.

The challenge of subsidies and strict standards

One major obstacle to making a living wage as a childminder, Jones said, is the federal mandate cap on the amount of tuition she is allowed to be reimbursed for care provided to families receiving federal child care subsidies.

The Child Care and Development Fund offers childcare subsidies to families who make up less than 127 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal program sets limits on co-payments that families receiving subsidies can be charged; those limits are based on family income, family size, years on the program, and the federal poverty level.

Jones said those limits – which are meant to protect families seeking childcare from paying more than they can afford – also make it impossible for childcare workers to make a living wage. Strictly state-enforced rules and regulations for child care providers have reduced profits even more, she said.

BriTanya Bays is an organizer with Child Care Changemakers, a national activist group of parents and educators. She owns a home care business in Abilene, Texas.

Bays said home providers do not receive as much federal funding or compensation as larger child care centers or ministries. Home-based providers are unable to accommodate as many children as larger centers, and staff shortages create additional challenges to increase capacity.

When federal money is not distributed fairly, it is difficult for all providers to meet the same strict standards, Bays said. In order for suppliers to retain their license, they must provide regulated and nutritious meals and a quality educational environment.

“They’re trying to promote a school setting without school funding,” Bays said.

Refunds are determined based on market rates for an eight-hour shift. But Bays said the state told her to offer a 12-hour window of child care services to families, without an increase in compensation. She said splitting the compensation over 12 hours dramatically reduced her hourly wage.

“So I would have to have 10 kids here to be able to earn close to minimum wage,” Bays said. “And I’m only licensed to have 12 children. So I will have to plug in my program just to make minimum wage. ”

She said she recently decided not to accept children whose families receive federal subsidies because it costs her too much.

“I went into the negative,” Bays said. “It was a lose-lose situation, throughout.”

Bays and other childminders say low wages and poor working conditions prevent people from entering the childcare force and staying there.

The Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency operating the Child Care and Development Fund, did not respond to emails from WFYI seeking comment on the program.

Childcare shortages hurt the economy

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 15,000 suppliers in the US closed their doors, according to research from the child care advocacy network Child Care Aware of America. In 2021, more than 30 percent of Indiana’s childminders said they are considering stopping or closing their businesses within the next year, according to a report by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

This is bad for the economy. A 2018 report found Indiana loses more than $ 1 billion each year due to the state’s lack of affordable child care.

Lack of access to affordable early care causes many parents to cut their working hours or leave the workforce altogether. It’s a financial hit for both families and businesses – employee absence cost businesses an estimated $ 12 billion each year, according to a report commissioned by the Council for a Strong America.

That’s why many advocates recommend workplaces to sponsor their employees ’child care. Early Learning Indianaa non-profit organization based in Indianapolis, works with employers to help meet the childcare needs of their staff.

Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana, said she hopes her organization’s support bridges some gaps in access. But long-term solutions will need to include policy changes that encourage more people to work as childminders.

“Two things are true at the same time,” Weber said. “We are not asking enough to afford the workforce we really need to do this work, and we are asking for more than families can afford.”

Child care providers like Kelly Dawn Jones in Indianapolis say they need the federal government to act and collect the reimbursements for child caregivers so that they can make a living wage and afford to pay their staff more.

This is especially important at the moment, she said, when workplaces such as fast food, retail and other lower-limit employment offer higher wages to address their own staff shortages.

“To have quality child care, you have to have quality staff,” Jones said. “You can’t get quality staff today for less than $ 20 an hour.”

Contact WFYI Economic Equity Reporter Sydney Dauphinais at Follow on Twitter: @syddauphinais.

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