'You can only make sacrifieces for so long' Low wages and benefits are chronic among those who work in day care

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 child care 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 people with comparable responsibilities, according to a survey of salaries and benefits of state child care 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 child care workers. A 1989 study by the Child Care Employee Project showed that 60 percent of all child care 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.

"We do fund-raiser after fund-raiser after fund-raiser; we allocate that money to salary increases," she explains. Those projects bring in about $2,000 a year -- to be divided among 11 people.

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.

After three months' employees can accrue vacation, sick leave and personal leave; she also contributes toward an individual's health insurance. "I think I'm one of the first centers to start benefits," says Mrs. Ivey, who opened her center nearly 14 years ago on East 43rd Street in the city.

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