Higher quality of early education and child care will require a better-paid and better-qualified work force. Making progress in these areas is also a matter of economic justice and of employment equality for the overwhelmingly female child-care work force.
The estimated 2.5 million adults who are paid to care for children are among the lowest earners in the U.S. According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Center for the Child Care Workforce, the average annual income of workers in child-care centers was just more than $18,000 in 2004 -- nearly $27,000 less than kindergarten teachers, and some $35,550 less than flight attendants. The estimated 76 percent of all paid child-care providers who work in homes earn even less than those who work in centers.
To judge from public debates on everything from marriage promotion to educational standards, the United States is exceptionally concerned with the well-being of children. But as American families struggle to balance work and family demands, our government is doing little to help. Parents in countries such as Sweden and France also balance work and family responsibilities. In fact, rates of maternal employment are as high or higher in these countries than in the United States. But parents in these countries are managing competing demands with significantly more help from government.