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Balancing Wages, Rising Costs in Minnesota Child Care

Child-care advocates are asking Minnesota lawmakers to consider raising wages and increasing public investment in those programs. (iStockphoto)
Child-care advocates are asking Minnesota lawmakers to consider raising wages and increasing public investment in those programs. (iStockphoto)
January 15, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Child-care workers, including those in Minnesota, are some of the lowest-paid professionals in the nation. A children's nonprofit group is encouraging the state to consider raising providers' wages and balancing that priority with the rising costs of care.

Despite the state having some of the most expensive child care in the country, said Val Peterson, director of financial supports for Childcare Aware Minnesota, many highly educated providers earn little more than minimum wage.

"It probably compares to somebody who's working at McDonald's," she said. "It's not comparing well to elementary school teachers, although many of our child-care providers have similar backgrounds."

Peterson cautioned that while raising the minimum wage would be a step in the right direction, that alone would not solve the state's affordability problem. Childcare Aware instead is backing a joint approach of raising wages and increasing the public investment in child-care programs.

According the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most full-time child-care workers in cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul earn about $23,000 a year while their elementary school counterparts make almost three times as much. Peterson said low child-care wages are essentially subsidizing the cost of care for parents.

"Well, if the employer now, all of a sudden, has to pay that person who's taking care of four infants more money, she's going to have to charge the parents of those four infants more money or take a loss in her business," she said. "That's that tough, break-even point."

As state lawmakers prepare to head back to session in March, early-childhood education groups are asking them to increase public funding to reimburse some licensed child-care programs. Ann McCully, who heads Childcare Aware Minnesota, said that could help increase wages without burdening parents or businesses.

"Until policymakers really view child care as part of the bigger education picture," she said, "we're going to have a hard time moving those salaries and those benefits up the way we would like to."

Labor statistics for Minnesota are online at bls.gov.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN