New report says child care in Pennsylvania is in crisis; Workers’ low pay results in high turnover

Children First PA survey shows early childhood educators earning $12.43 per hour.

While staffing shortages persist, Philadelphia is working to expand its early childhood programs

While staffing shortages persist, Philadelphia is working to expand its early childhood programs. (Emily Elconin for Chalkbeat)

This story originally appeared on WITF.

Finding affordable and quality child care – it was challenge for many parents before the COVID-19 pandemic but the pandemic made it even worse. Not all child care providers have recovered.

Like other industries, hiring and keeping workers has been a problem. However, it’s one that preceded the pandemic.

One of the reasons is child care workers are not paid much and as a result, there’s a high turnover.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Children First PA conducted a survey of what early childhood educators are paid and it’s not a positive report.

Mai Miksic is the Early Childhood Education Policy Director at Children First PA, wrote the report and she joined us on The Spark Thursday. Here’s how she described child care in Pennsylvania,”It’s a crisis because it’s affecting every part of our society at this point. It’s not just a crisis for the childcare sector, but the early childhood workforce is the workforce behind the workforce, which means people can’t go to work. And so when you think about number the thousands of kids sitting on wait lists across the state, that’s thousands of families that can’t go to work. That’s thousands of businesses that can’t staff. And that’s our economy that can’t rebound from the pandemic.”

The survey showed that on average, early childhood educators in Pennsylvania are earning about $12.43 per hour.

Miksic was asked why early childhood educators are paid so little, ”It’s the business model of childcare programs. You need to have a certain number of adults per child in order to keep a facility that’s safe. So for infants, that’s four infants to one adult. And so you have this business model where you have to put a lot of money into the labor, and then there’s not very much money for everything else. With a company like Target, they can increase prices on products, but you can’t really as easily increase tuition for parents. And so it’s it’s just a hard business model to do. It’s hard. It’s a hard business for for providers to run. And then secondly, I think it’s just historically not been a field that’s been very respected. I think it’s true of a lot of care industries, not just child care, but home health aides teaching, nursing. Like fields that are dominated by women typically have been lower paid in general. And I think for a long time and maybe still in some parts of the country, early childhood education is still thought of as babysitting and not as early education.”

What’s the answer? Miksic said,”We know that policymakers can step in and help industries out when the need is high. We saw throughout the pandemic at the federal level and at the state level that they can make investments, one time investments. I think the time is now to make sustainable investments and the mechanisms are there to do that.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget plan he outlined earlier this week includes more money for childcare for low-income families, but Miksic said her organization was disappointed in the proposal,”While it sounds like $66.7 million for childcare is a lot of money. It’s actually plugging a hole in federal dollars that are going away. So it’s not even though it was targeted toward low income families, it’s not going to have the impact that’s needed to solve this childcare crisis.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal