As child care salaries remain low, child care centers struggle to retain staff | Wisconsin News

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MADISON (WKOW) – While child care wages hold up, the cost of living and other industry wages are skyrocketing, forcing many workers out of the industry.

At Madison’s Red Caboose Child Care Center, general manager Jason Anderson is struggling to find staff.

“It’s been very difficult to find new candidates and, you know, even more difficult than before,” Anderson said. “I would say in my 25 years of hiring staff, this is the hardest I’ve ever seen.”

To make matters worse, the center is currently expanding to a new location. But right now, they don’t have the workers to staff it.

“We’re planning our new facility on Winnebago Street. We’re really excited about it,” Anderson said. “But our ability to scale in this new building will be entirely dependent on our ability to hire staff.”

It’s a trend that many child care centers across the country are facing right now as inflation rates and job openings rise. Laura Dresser, associate director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), says child care salaries have not been able to keep up.

“This is a workforce that traditionally has very low wages, kind of exceptionally low wages,” Dresser said.

Dresser says many child care workers simply leave the industry to find better pay in other jobs.

“A lot of educators or teachers are very dedicated to the job and stay there,” Dresser said. “But right now, the relative cost of that decision is going up. And it has a lot more to do with raising wages in other service-sector jobs.”

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an early childhood educator in the United States is just $13.22 per hour, or $27,490 per year. In Wisconsin, the number is even lower – just $12.99 per hour.

A recent study from UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families have shown that the turnover rate is also exceptionally high.

The study shows that in 2021, 28% of child care workers said they plan to leave the field in the next two years. 50% of respondents said they would leave within the next five years.

Their reasoning — salaries and the risk of catching COVID-19.

“Service industry jobs, restaurant jobs, Amazon warehouse jobs, whatever — you see the wages going up,” Dresser said. “And so I think it’s a matter of external opportunities and low unemployment rates and labor opportunities pulling workers out of the industry.”

As for child care centers like Red Caboose, they are now caught between a rock and a hard place.

“Of course we want to pay our teachers as much as possible,” Anderson said. “But we also aim to keep childcare as affordable as possible for our families.”

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