A 2022 study revealed that child care workers in California are paid just 25-30% of the cost of providing care. The inadequate pay has racist roots, and workers in this crucial industry are demanding action from state leaders.
It’s 5 a.m. and the stars are still bright in the sky. I’ve already been awake for an hour, preparing to welcome the first family dropping their child off. Over the course of the day, I’ll read books, lead educational activities, watch over nap time and cook three hot meals before the last child gets picked up at 8 p.m.
Then I’ll wake up and do it all over again – seven days a week.
This work isn’t for everyone but I love it. Working communities like mine cannot thrive without child care providers.
Many of us are Black and brown women who exist near poverty, despite the long hours we keep. But this cannot remain the norm. California’s leaders need to eliminate the enduring relics of slavery built into this work which intentionally leaves us behind.
I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a masters in public health but left a well-paying medical administration job because it wasn’t fulfilling. I turned back to my roots caring for neighborhood kids when I was growing up in Missouri, and I opened up a home-based child care.
I now welcome seven kids into my home every day – the youngest is 14 months old and the oldest is 12 years old. Some kids are the fourth in their family to spend their vital early learning years with me. And I love and cherish each of them and their families.
But love doesn’t pay my bills. And I barely get by on the $10,000 in annual take home pay (after expenses).
When my fence went down in one of the horrible storms we experienced last year, I knew I needed to get it fixed immediately for the safety of the children I serve. I also knew that would require tapping into my savings. At 61 years old, the savings I had intended for retirement have mostly gone into emergencies like this so I’m not sure when or if I’ll be able to retire.
Many are shocked to learn California’s child care providers take home so little and wonder how that can be legal. The ugly truth is majority Black workforces – like in-home care workers and child care providers – were intentionally excluded from federal labor protections after the Emancipation Proclamation and continued to be left out of the protections we’re most familiar with today, many provided through the New Deal.
During emancipation, southern white families pushed the “mammy” stereotype – the rotund and happy Black woman who was more family than servant and, therefore, didn’t require fair pay. This self-serving and racist rationale prevailed. Generations of Black women were relegated to raise white kids while earning so little that they had no chance at upward mobility.
This exploitative legacy of racism has no place in 21st-century California, but it’s institutionalized in the reimbursement rates the state pays subsidized child care providers. It’s time that fair wages are provided through increased reimbursement rates. A study funded by behest payments to Gov. Gavin Newsom last year revealed we are paid just 25-30% of the cost of providing care, which leaves our already low wages left to cover the difference.
Enough is enough and fair is fair. The state must reimburse us for the care we provide in full. The current system is morally indefensible. Leaving this practice in place is a values statement – just not one California’s leaders would ever admit supporting.