Child care workers are chronically underpaid, earning wages in line with fast-food workers and retail associates.
On Tuesday, child care workers will join the Fight for $15, the movement started in 2012 by 200 fast-food workers in New York City who walked off the job to protest low pay. When the Fight for $15 stages its next protests on April 15, child care workers are expected to demonstrate alongside the home care workers and airport workers who have joined the campaign since its launch.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which backs the Fight for $15, told Fortune that child care workers protesting alongside fast-food workers illustrates a dual crisis: underpaid working parents are struggling to pay for child care and those who care for others’ children are struggling to take care of their own.
Child care workers in the U.S. earn median pay of $9.38 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is comparable with the earnings of food preparation workers—$9.28 per hour—and retail sales employees—$10.29 per hour—and is especially measly when weighed against child care workers’ role in early childhood education.
Responsive, sensitive, and secure adult-child attachments are developmentally expected and biologically essential for young children; their absence signals a serious threat to child well-being, according to a 2012 study by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Findings such as these help explain the child care industry’s growing expectation that its workers have college degrees. The share of Head Start teachers with an associate or bachelor’s degree grew by 61%; for assistant teachers, it increased by 24% between 1997 and 2013.