Day care centers losing workers

`Biggest challenge we have is hiring quality we want,' one director says

March 11, 2001|By Sylvia Wood | Sylvia Wood,ALBANY TIMES UNION

TROY, N.Y. - As a licensed registered nurse, Mary Ellen Manzella could get a job earning up to $50,000 a year. Instead, she spends her days with the babies at day care center earning nearly half that.

Manzella said her fondness for children keeps her working for less money than she might otherwise earn. "I've just always loved children," she said. "We sit down on the floor and play a lot. What a great job."

Many day care centers would love to find more people like Manzella: caring, educated and willing to forgo a decent salary for work they enjoy.

But with one of the tightest labor markets in recent memory, that is a hard sell.

Workers in early childhood education are among the lowest-paid employees, earning in some cases less than workers at fast-food restaurants or convenience stores.

"It really is a challenge to hire quality people," said Betty Bellino, director of the Kenwood Child Development Center in Albany, N.Y. "It really bothers me I'm offering $8 an hour for a head teacher."

There is a national staff crisis in child care, an industry known for its low pay and high turnover.

Raising salaries of day care workers would be difficult because of the economics of the industry. The cost of running day care is already high - when payroll, rent, insurance and other expenses are factored in - and most parents are unable to pay more.

"Children face a revolving door of child care providers," said Marcy Whitebook, of the Center for the Child Care Workforce, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., that represents day care employees. "As long as these jobs are the bottom of the barrel, we're in trouble."

Recent research has shown that continuity of care and a stable environment are critical for appropriate social and intellectual development among infants and toddlers. Other studies have revealed a strong link between the training and wages that child care workers get and the quality and continuity of care they provide.

Such findings underscore the dilemma faced by many day care directors, who are increasingly searching for new ways to recruit and retain workers.

"We offered a $500 sign-on bonus and I couldn't believe, nobody responded," said Nancy Burlingame, director of Corporate Woods Children's Center in the Albany suburb of Colonie. "The biggest challenge we have is hiring the quality we want."

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