Low Pay, No Respect, High Satisfaction
Readers chime in as Emily Yoffe discusses the reality of day care work.
Norristown, Pa.: After graduating from a liberal arts college where I majored in economics, I discovered a passion for working with young children and decided to pursue early childhood education as a career. I've found that however fulfilling the job may be and how hard I work, it simply does not pay my bills, nor does it earn me respect among the parents of children or my peers.
I don't work just to gain respect, but the lack of appreciation and acknowledgement of my efforts certainly lowers my morale. There are few viable options in the field for highly-educated, qualified individuals, and so the majority of the day care workforce remains undereducated ... I'd be interested to know how many day cares in America employ individuals with master's degrees in early childhood education.
Emily Yoffe: Your letter is so depressing, because as hard at the job is, there are incredible rewards. These teachers really shape and civilize and in some cases bring love and stability to the lives of the children. The kids are fun and funny! But you're right, if you want to pursue this as a career it has no money and no prestige.
I would believe very few day care centers have people with masters degrees. At the most elite levels, of course, there are certain prestige centers which parents are willing to do almost anything to get their kids into. Remember the scandal of Jack Grubman, the investment banker who ended up being indicted for a financial scheme, the impetus of which was to get his kids in the right Manhattan preschool?
Boulder, Colo.: I gave early childhood education 22 years of my life, including center ownership with 29 infants and toddlers. It gave me incredible life skills, continual practice in staying in the moment, great insight concerning parent perspectives ... and after 22 years drained my spirit! Can you believe that people continue this amazing job in spite of the pay, long hours and lack of recognition?
Still, as a public school teacher, I get comments such as "what's it like having a real job now?" Hmm I thought I was in a real job when I was a day care worker, lead teacher, director and center owner. Another common comment: "Wish I could stay on the floor all day and play." So my question is, did you meet any long-stayers, and if so, what insight did they add to your short experience in this field? What makes them stay?
Emily Yoffe: Again—another depressing letter. "Real job" "stay on the floor all day and play," jeez!
Many of the women working at the center were fairly new immigrants to this country and the ones I talked to said this job was a gateway to other things. Even if they wanted to continue working with kids, it would not be at day care; one wanted to get a college degree in psychology. Another was starting evening classes at business school. I spoke to one young American woman who had been at the center for several years. Her mother also worked in day care. She said she liked the job, but since she lacks a college degree, her options for more lucrative employment are not good.
Arlington, Va.: Wonderful article. It just broke my heart—especially the image of the 10-month-old wanting to be held. I'm mom to a 9-month-old, and at present we're lucky enough to manage a system where her dad stays home part-time and she has a wonderful sitter about 15 hours a week. I'm already worried about what to do when she gets older. It makes me crazy that the most important jobs (child care providers, teachers, social workers) do not get the respect—or pay—that they deserve. And that it's nearly impossible to live (at least in this area) on one income.
Emily Yoffe: You put your finger on one problem with having to put babies into day care. The workers were wonderful! Loving and encouraging and compassionate. But they only have so many hands and they cannot just soothe a fussy baby to the exclusion of the other children. But because I was at a high-quality center, I came away feeling that if you had to make arrangement for someone else to care for your baby, this was a good compromise.
Boulder, Colo.: I can help with costs! As a previous center owner, (with a five-to-one ratio), wages per hour have hidden costs, such as matching social security funds. Insurance is high. In many cities toys are taxed. There are high utility bills because of high water use, heating/cooling costs ... and the list goes on. If owners could pay more, they would. The profit margin, if any, is extremely low.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks for the insight.
Re: Working Moms: Why are working moms always so defensive? I didn't see any digs in your article.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks—I really didn't intend any.
Is it the nature of mothers do be defensive about whatever choice we make? Don't the staying at home mothers always feel dissed about not pursuing their careers?
Silver Spring, Md.: Come on, didn't you ever have a moment when you wanted to cover your ears and scream at the top of your lungs? I have two kids in daycare (ages 3 and 5) and I love my kids, but hanging out all day with other people's kids would drive me insane. It couldn't have been as lovely as you make it out to be.
Emily Yoffe: I mentioned that around 4:30 I was thinking, "Time to plop the kids in front of the television!"
Also having to endlessly sing those little ditties would make me nuts.
Emily Yoffe writes Slate's "Human Guinea Pig" and "Dear Prudence" columns. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, O the Oprah Magazine, Texas Monthly, the Washington Post, and other publications. She is the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.