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Childcare teachers in Wisconsin earn the same as doggy daycare workers

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If you search Google for the lowest-paying jobs in America, chances are “child care workers” will pop up.

This also applies to Wisconsin.

The average hourly wage for child care workers in Wisconsin is $13.78, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2023. Nationally, it is $14.60.

Despite the fact that the majority of early childhood educators in Wisconsin have a college education or degree, they practice fewer professions than many and often do not receive job-sponsored benefits.

The impact of child care workers’ low wages also extends to Wisconsin families. It is one of the driving forces behind workforce shortages across the sector, limiting the number of childcare options for parents.

Who earns more in Wisconsin, childcare workers or dog daycare workers?

Here’s how wages for child care workers in Wisconsin compare to those of similarly paying occupations, based on BLS 2023 data:

  • Childcare workers and pet care workers, such as doggy daycare workers, earn about the same average hourly wage. Zookeepers earn just $0.04 less than child care workers.
  • Cashiers ($13.95), hotel desk clerks ($14.61), maids and housekeepers ($15.47), and hairdressers and beauticians ($17.41) all earn more than childcare workers.

Even among child care workers in Wisconsin, there are wage disparities. Family providers, meaning those who work in their own homes, typically earn even less than workers who work in a center, previous state data shows.

Do child care workers in Wisconsin earn a living wage?

No, not if you compare the BLS data to the state’s living wages, as reported in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, which was updated in early 2024. This applies regardless of whether a childcare worker is part of a household with one income or with two incomes. and if one has no children or three.

For example, a childcare worker who is single and has no children would need to earn $20.22 per hour to earn a living wage in Wisconsin. The exact living wage varies by location.

In some circumstances, the $13.78 average hourly wage of Wisconsin child care workers is classified as poverty-level wages, according to the calculator.

Economic uncertainty is nothing new to the field. A national survey conducted between 2012 and 2013 found that the majority of primary school teachers surveyed feared they would not be able to pay monthly bills, and nearly half reported food insecurity.

Why are Wisconsin child care wages so low?

The answers vary depending on who is asking the question, but often include one or more of the following:

  • Disrespect for the profession
  • Lack of public investment
  • The business model for child care programs often works according to this model

Childcare programs often have little or no source of income outside of the price families pay for care. That revenue must cover a whole range of costs, not just employee wages. Many of those costs are not flexible, such as rent or mortgages.

It’s not as simple as downsizing the workforce so that the remaining employees can earn more. When child care programs are understaffed, they cannot serve as many children. And when that happens, revenues drop.

More: Childcare in Wisconsin can cost more than college. Why is it so expensive?

What can be done to increase wages for child care workers in Wisconsin?

Raising wages often means families have to pay more for care, at a time when many are already struggling to pay. If childcare costs rise, there is a risk that families will be pushed out of the market.

That’s why many advocates are calling on the Wisconsin Legislature to invest in the industry. Multiple child care providers told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin that Child Care Counts, a program that distributes pandemic relief dollars to child care programs, has allowed them to increase wages without having to make large or no rate increases.

Child Care Counts will continue through June 2025. But advocates warn that if Wisconsin doesn’t take action before then, there will be major consequences, including the closure of many child care programs and leaving many children without care.

While Republicans passed a package of bills last legislative session aimed at helping the industry and the families who depend on it, few were signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. One that was signed extends a state tax credit for child care costs. Another agreement signed gives companies a tax break of up to 15 percent of their investment in setting up a childcare program for employees.

More: Milwaukee is building 42 homes for child care providers. That will help them keep their jobs

More: Takeaways from a new report on child care in Wisconsin: It’s expensive, hard to find and politicians can’t agree on what to do

Madison Lammert covers child care and early childhood education across Wisconsin as a member of the Report for America corps based at The Appleton Post-Crescent. To contact her, you can send an email [email protected] or call 920-993-7108. Please consider supporting journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America by visiting postcrescent.com/RFA

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