Love just isn't enough

CHILDCARE ON A SHOESTRING

April 10, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Yvette Hill wants to buy a car, but can't afford one. As a certified day care teacher with 10 years of experience and responsibility for 20 4-year-olds eight hours a day, she earns about $12,400 a year.

Bonnie Rowe wants to send her children to college, but knows she'll have to change jobs to do so. As an assistant director of a Dundalk childcare center with 15 years' experience, she makes just over $16,500 a year.

"My heart's in day care," Ms. Rowe says. If it weren't, "our lifestyle would be different. I do enjoy very much what I am doing. But you can only make sacrifices for so long."

Both women say they love their jobs. Both admit they're discouraged and occasionally resentful of the low salaries and few benefits. They are not unusual.

Ms. Hill's salary -- about $6 an hour -- is slightly below the state average for persons with comparable responsibilities, according to a survey of salaries and benefits of state childcare workers, conducted by the Maryland Committee for Children. Ms. Rowe's, at "around $8," is somewhat above.

The survey, released yesterday, shows that a day care teacher -- the person responsible for the everyday care of youngsters -- earns about $13,000. Aides earn an average of $10,400 a year, and directors of centers average $19,000 a year.

"The results are pretty bad," says Ann Feldman of the Maryland Committee for Children. Low salaries affect not only employees, but employers who have trouble hiring competent workers and, ultimately, the children in day care who are asked often to adjust to a new caregiver, she says.

The results aren't surprising, however. Many of these findings parallel national numbers for childcare workers. A 1989 study by the Child Care Employee Project, showed that 60 percent of all childcare workers earned $5 or less an hour and that 40 percent of all day care teachers had no health insurance. That same study showed that day care staffs earn less than half as much as comparably educated women in other fields and only one-third as much as comparably educated men.

The problem is not stingy employers, says Ms. Feldman. It's strapped centers -- supported largely by the fees they charge. "They all want to pay more, but they just can't figure out how to do it."

Dundalk day care owner Donna Krause wishes she could pay more to the 10 employees at her Creative Learning and Child Care Center. It would make her life easier, she says.

Because of the low wages it often takes Ms. Krause three months to fill a job opening. "Just loving children is not enough. You need to have skills. You need somebody who has some kind of education behind them," she says.

"Somebody with an AA [2-year] degree is going to want $8 an hour to start. And that's not a lot of money -- but I can't pay it," says Ms. Krause, who opened her center five years ago after teaching in public schools for several years.

She can pay that person $6 an hour, she says. Other teachers, without associate degrees but with the courses required for state certification, start at $5 or $5.50 an hour -- without hope of sizable raises, she says.

Low wages and meager benefits mean high turnover. "You may love children, but you may not be able to stay in a field that does not allow you to buy a car or pay your rent. I had 55 W2's last year -- for a staff of 10," she says.

While the revolving door is hard on her as an employer, it is even harder on the children in her care.

"It's really a hardship. They need to bond. They need consistency. They do much better when they are with the same person," she says.

The center can accommodate 90 children, but the recession has cut her enrollment to 60. She charges $70 a week per child for up to 11 hours a day. Increasing tuition is unlikely. "A couple of years ago I raised it $2.50 a week and I lost people," says Ms. Krause.

She, too, feels the pinch of being underpaid. During the first two years she owned the center, she didn't take a salary. Now, as a single parent, she does. She also teaches part-time at Dundalk Community College and for the Baltimore County Schools adult education program and does workshops for the staffs and parents of other day care centers. "That's what I do to have a comfortable life," she says.

At the Ivey League Learning Center, where Yvette Hill cares for her group of 4-year-olds, employees receive raises of 4 to 8 percent a year, says Christyne Ivey, the center's owner and director.

Mrs. Ivey, who charges $75 a week per child, says she gives Christmas bonuses, birthday dinners and honors an outstanding employee each month with $25 or a day off. "If I can't offer to give them $50 an hour, I can make them feel wanted," she adds.

Ms. Hill started as a substitute teacher's aide at the Ivey League center soon after graduating from Lake Clifton High School. She has worked there ever since, as a full-time aide and for the last several years, after going to night school to become certified, as a teacher.

A single mother with a 4-year-old daughter, Ms. Hill, 28, is hoping to use the state's tuition assistance program for childcare workers to return to school for an associate's degree. "It would get me more money," she says, but for now, "I just work with the salary I get."

Ms. Hill says she's thought of getting another job, but the center's policies afford her flexibility in caring for her daughter and the center's parents treat her as a professional. And, besides, when she's off for a few days, "I miss my children."

For Bonnie Rowe, it's "just walking in and having children run up and hug me and tell me I look beautiful. You don't get that everywhere."

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