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Underpaid & Undervalued: Massachusetts Childcare Workers

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Something’s not right here. 

Massachusetts childcare workers play a vital role in family, community, and economic life. They ensure parents can work and help prepare young children for academic and professional careers.

Nevertheless, early learning staff earn less than a living wage in the state, on average. 

Historically low pay for a predominantly female workforce

This isn’t a new problem. 

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most young children were cared for by women inside the home. However, as more women entered the workforce, the need for childcare centers and educators grew. Women filled these roles too; for their efforts, they were grossly underpaid compared to men in male-dominated industries. 

Not much has changed. Today, women make up 92 percent of the childcare workforce nationwide. One in three were born outside the United States and the majority are women of color. 

What are these dedicated professionals earning in Massachusetts? 

An average of $19.44 per hour. That’s less than a living wage in Massachusetts for a single adult with no children, which is $21.35 an hour, and well short of a living wage for each adult in a couple raising just one child, which is $32.46 an hour. (Financial needs grow higher with each additional child.) Childcare workers are also less likely to have retirement benefits or employer-provided health care, despite the  social, emotional, and physical challenges of their work.

It's no wonder childcare programs face rampant turnover and crippling staffing shortages (which are expected to worsen in coming years). The women and men who care for young children must choose between a career they love and one that supports financial wellness and economic participation.

Childcare is a professional career and should be treated as such

It’s widely understood that elementary, middle, and high school teachers and staff are trained professionals with a passion for working with children and teenagers. 

Early educators? Not so much. Despite specialized training and certifications, the early education field continues to be viewed as a nonprofessional career. Women and children suffer the consequences. 

Fortunately, we now have an opportunity to begin correcting these historical wrongs.

Massachusetts can be a national leader in childcare reform and early educator pay

In the 2000s, we were the first state to establish universal health care. The nation followed. 

Now, two bills recently filed at the State House, HD. 2794 (introduced by Representatives Ken Gordon and Adrian Madaro) and SD. 667 (introduced by Senators Jason Lewis and Susan Moran) aim to improve educator compensation and set Massachusetts on a path towards universal, affordable childcare. 

Backed by the Common Start Coalition (CSC), an Edward Street partner, the bills would create a structure for affordable care options for families, significantly increase pay and benefits for early educators, and provide new and stable funding for providers. 

True universal childcare in Massachusetts will require a “sustained funding effort” over time, explains CSC. But it’s a start.

Ask your State Legislators to co-sponsor bills HD. 2794 and SD. 667

You have an opportunity to support fair educator pay and childcare affordability in Massachusetts and it only takes a few seconds. 

Just click send on the Common Start Coalition’s pre-written email encouraging legislators to co-sponsor HD. 2794 and SD. 667, or write your own email.

It’s time we empowered a field long deserving of our support—and not just for the benefit of childcare workers and children. Early educators are the backbone of childcare programs that keep communities running.

Thank you for supporting children, families, businesses, and our community.

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