STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
When parents drop off their kids for child care, two realities collide - one is that child care costs too much. The other is that child care workers are not paid very much.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health asked about child care, and nearly a third of parents say the cost has caused them problems.
INSKEEP: Yet, child care workers are among the lowest paid in any profession. NPR's Jennifer Ludden looks at the impact.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: In Greensboro, N.C., Eyeisha Holt has spent the day as an early educator at Head Start. Now, she's at her second job - babysitting.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Da, da, da, da, da, da (ph).
LUDDEN: It's bath time for her 3-year-old daughter and one of her charges.
EYEISHA HOLT: Are you ready to go to bed? You are.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
LUDDEN: Holt says she loves working in child care, but after a decade, she only makes $11.50 an hour, barely enough to get by as a single mom of two. So she babysits 25 hours a week.
HOLT: Some days I can push forth. Some days I'm really strong. Some days it's like, OK, give me seven cups of coffee, all seven of them. I need all seven.
LUDDEN: Nationwide, average pay for child care workers is less than $10 an hour. Nearly half receive some kind of public assistance. Holt gets food stamps, and her children are on Medicaid.
HOLT: And I just feel like it's kind of messed up because you would think being in a profession such as teaching I should be making enough money where I didn't qualify at all.
MICHELLE RIVEST: We're seeing a high turnover. We're seeing the lowest enrollment in our community college programs for early education. And I think it's all attributable to low wages.
LUDDEN: Michelle Rivest heads the North Carolina Child Care Coalition. It wants state lawmakers to budget $10 million for bonuses. Child care workers would get an extra $2,000 to $4,000 a year depending on their education. Rivest says this kind of public investment would pay off for years to come.
RIVEST: Students who've had early education are much more likely to graduate. They're likely to get higher employment, better pay, less reliance on public support.
LUDDEN: But what lawmakers give, they can also take away when times are tight. In another push, child care workers are part of the national campaign for a $15 minimum wage.
MARCY WHITEBOOK: Raising the floor is a good thing, but we also want to raise the ceiling.
LUDDEN: Marcy Whitebook heads the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. She says a lot of states and the federal Head Start program are trying to boost overall pay by requiring workers to have more education.
WHITEBOOK: There's been this belief that somehow if we raise the educational levels, the rest will follow, the changes in wages. That might work in a well-functioning market, but the market we have for early childhood does not function that way.
JENNIE ANTUNES: I've been in the day care field for 31 years.
LUDDEN: Jennie Antunes is a lead teacher at NorthStar Learning Center in New Bedford, Mass. The state recently gave her a full scholarship to complete her four-year degree.
ANTUNES: I did get a pay raise, a dollar, a dollar more an hour. But unfortunately we're so behind that dollar really didn't do anything (laughter) you know, to make life easier.
LUDDEN: After an entire career in child care, Antunes now makes $13.75 an hour. She's also lost one of her most experienced colleagues. As soon as she got her bachelor's, she left for a higher paying job. Antunes admits it's tempting.
ANTUNES: It's getting really hard. My husband retired, so there's less pay coming in. And I'm, like, thinking, do I get a second job or do I leave?
LUDDEN: She says that thought makes her feel guilty. She knows the child care system desperately needs people like her to stay. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.
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