Some Indiana Child Care Workers Find Living Wages Out of Reach

Kelly Dawn Jones never thought she should turn her workplace into her home.

Jones founded Love Your Child’s Care 13 years ago. It’s a home daycare run by a small house in southeast Indianapolis. She usually has between five and 12 children, from infants to 11 years old.

The spacious backyard features a colorful assortment of plastic children’s chairs, a miniature swing set and toy cars. Inside, the 7-by-10-foot dining room serves as a classroom, nap space, and occasionally the space where Jones teaches yoga.

It’s tight. But when the apartment complex she and her two children lived in caught fire last year, she said they had no choice but to move into the one-bedroom house where she works . Jones sleeps on a futon in the living room and her children, aged 10 and 15, share the bedroom.

“It’s very stressful for all of us because there’s absolutely no private space for us,” Jones said. “But we make it work because we’re scrappy like that.”

Like most child care providers, Jones said she gets by on poverty-level wages. Jones said her annual income fluctuates, but in recent years it’s been around $26,000. The average wage for child care providers in the United States in May 2021 was $11.43 per hour, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS defines a child care worker as someone who cares for children in schools, businesses, private households, and child care institutions.

Indiana child care workers track the national average, with an hourly wage of $11.64 and an average annual income of $24,210.

“Most of us literally plan to retire in poverty,” Jones said. “And if there is social security for us, maybe we will have it. But most of us will be impoverished forever.

The Challenge of Subsidies and Strict Standards
A big hurdle to earning a living wage as a child care provider, Jones said, is the federal government’s cap on the amount of tuition she’s allowed to charge families if they participate in a program that provides grants to eligible families based on income level.

The Child Care and Development Fund provides child care subsidies to families with incomes below 127% of the federal poverty level. The federal program sets limits on the co-payments that families receiving subsidies can be charged; these limits are based on family income, family size, years of participation in the program and the federal poverty level.

Jones said these limits — which are meant to prevent families seeking child care from paying more than they can afford — also prevent child care workers from earning a living. Strict rules and regulations imposed by the state for child care providers further reduce profits, she said.

BriTanya Bays is an organizer of Childcare Changemakers, a national activist group of parents and educators. She owns a home-based babysitting business in Abilene, Texas.

Bays said in-home providers don’t receive as much funding or reimbursement from the federal government as larger child care centers or government departments. Home-based providers are unable to accommodate as many children as larger centers, and staffing shortages create additional challenges to increase capacity.

When federal money isn’t fairly distributed, it’s difficult for all providers to meet the same high standards, Bays said. For providers to retain their license, they must provide regulated, nutritious meals and a quality educational environment.

“They’re trying to push a school framework without school funding,” Bays said.

Reimbursements are based on market rates for an eight-hour shift. But Bays said the state told her to offer a 12-hour window of child care to families, with no increase in pay. She said splitting the reimbursement over 12 hours significantly reduced her hourly wage.

She said she recently decided not to accept children whose families receive federal grants because it was too expensive for her.
The Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency that administers the Child Care and Development Fund, did not respond to email messages from WFYI seeking comment on the program. The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which oversees the state’s CCDF program, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Shortage of childcare is hurting the economy
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 15,000 providers in the United States have closed, according to a study by child care advocacy network Child Care Aware of America. In 2021, more than 30% of Indiana child care providers said they plan to leave or close their business within the next year, according to a report by the National Association for Child Care. the education of young children.

It’s bad for the economy. A 2018 report found that Indiana loses more than $1 billion each year due to the state’s lack of affordable daycare.
Lack of access to affordable child care causes many parents to reduce their working hours or drop out of the workforce altogether.
That’s why many advocates advise workplaces to sponsor childcare for their employees. Early Learning Indiana, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, partners with employers to help meet the childcare needs of their staff.

Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana, said she hopes her organization’s support will fill some access gaps. But long-term solutions will have to include policy changes that encourage more people to work as childcare providers.

“Two things are true at the same time,” Weber said. “We don’t charge enough to be able to afford the labor we really need to do this work, and we charge more than the families can afford.”

Contact Sydney Dauphinais, WFYI Economic Equity Reporter, at sdauphinais@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: syddauphinais.

Michael A. Bynum