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Child care workers, including those in LA County, among lowest paid

A teacher at Jardín de Niños plays with kids at the school in Lincoln Heights, which receives funding from the California Department of Education. Childcare workers are among the lowest paid professionals in 2014 according to new data from the Economic Policy Institute.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
FILE: Child care workers are among the lowest paid professionals, according to new data from the Economic Policy Institute that looked at 2014 wages.

As the importance of early education gains bipartisan attention, a new study concludes those directly providing child care and preschool services are on the edge of poverty.

Nationwide, for 2014, child care and preschool workers earned low wages and few received healthcare or pension benefits, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit think tank.

The report finds that across the country, despite a high percentage of workers with some college education, most did not earn enough to cover a basic family budget.

In Los Angeles County, the problem was acute. Most child care workers earned less than the poverty threshold for full-time work. Two-thirds of preschool workers couldn’t cover a one-person budget with their full-time wage while over 90 percent of all L.A. County child care workers fell short of paying for basic living expenses.

“Across the country, child care workers have a difficult time making ends meet,” said Elise Gould, the report's author. “The poverty rate of child care workers is twice that of other workers.”

California does not do badly when compared with child care worker wages across the country. Typical child care workers in New York — excluding preschool workers — are paid the most with a median income annually of $25,100.

California ranks fifth, with a median child care worker income of $23,090 a year. In LA County, that is about $21,940 annually or $10.31 per hour. However, the high cost of living means workers struggle in California’s big cities.

Gould points out that not only are basic budget items like rent and food going up, child care workers themselves cannot afford to pay for their own children to be in infant, toddler or preschool care.

“In California, a child care worker would have to devote half of their entire annual salary to pay for infant care, or over one-third to pay for four-year-old care,” Gould told KPCC. “It is simply out of reach.”

The EPI study also provides a demographic breakdown of the workforce for 2014 and compared the field to “all other workers.” Ninety-six percent of workers are women, compared to 46 percent of all other workers. Thirty-five percent of child care workers are black and Hispanic compared to 25 percent of all other workers.

Numbers like these are playing into the continuing debate over the minimum wage and the cost of child care.

Next Tuesday, nationwide rallies are planned by the Service Employees International Union to call for a minimum wage of $15 an hour, which Los Angeles will reach by 2018. Child care workers plan to participate in the protests using the hashtag #strollers2thestreets.