Home > child care, histories, labor and capital > Center for the Study of Childcare Employment, “Working for worthy wages: The child care compensation movement, 1970-2001″

Center for the Study of Childcare Employment, “Working for worthy wages: The child care compensation movement, 1970-2001″

“Working for worthy wages: The child care compensation movement, 1970-2001”

Marcy Whitebook, Center for the Study of Childcare Employment, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California, Berkeley (2002)

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In 2001 and 2002, over $100 million dollars will be spent to augment the earnings
of child care teachers and providers across the United States. These financial rewards
will come in the form of annual stipends, health insurance coverage, and, for a small
number, targeted, sustained pay increases.  Driven in part by a robust economy in the late
1990s, combined with a growing demand for child care services and a shortage of trained
child care workers, many states, including California, Illinois, New York, North Carolina,
Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin, have initiated or expanded publicly-funded
programs focused on building a more skilled and stable child care workforce.  Initiatives
are also being developed in Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri and Pennsylvania.
Additionally, workers in Head Start, Department of Defense and some pre-kindergarten
early childhood programs are benefiting from salary enhancements built into those
delivery systems (Whitebook & Eichberg, 2002; Montilla, Twombly & De Vita, 2001).
While most child care teachers and providers continue to earn poverty-level
wages, and many beneficiaries of the above-mentioned compensation initiatives still are
woefully underpaid, there is little argument within the child care field, and a slowly
dawning awareness among policy makers, that improved services for young children in
the U.S. require better compensation for the child care workforce.  This level of
acknowledgment was not present a decade ago, even within the child care community.  In
many communities, the focus is not on whether to raise wages, but on how best to do so,
and a great deal of experimentation and debate is underway (Whitebook & Eichberg,
What has led to this new climate?  How have the current public investments in
child care jobs been achieved, and what is needed to sustain and increase them?  This
paper provides perspective on these questions by describing the movement to improve
child care compensation over the last quarter century.
Some social change activists distinguish between social movements and efforts on
behalf of a particular cause, recognizing that the distinction between the two is often not
hard and fast.  To qualify as a movement, it is argued, there must be a great deal of
spontaneous activity, a clear, specific message, a proliferation of regional or local groups
working on the issue, an ability to draw and hold public attention, and the attraction of
significant additional allies, not just the people directly affected by the problem (Sen,
2001).  By these criteria, it could be said that the efforts to improve child care
compensation are only recently congealing into a movement, and that much of the last
quarter century should be characterized as “pre-movement” work.  In this paper, I
identify three distinct phases of this history, which differ decidedly with respect to
degrees of activity, the number of groups involved, messages and strategies, and the
ability to attract supporters.
Between 1970 and 1985, the first signs of a movement surfaced as the problem of
low wages was identified and publicly articulated.  Between 1985 and 1995, research
demonstrated the link between low wages and the quality of services, and the wall of
silence around the issue was chipped away through community and labor organizing,
public awareness campaigns and public policy initiatives.  Between 1995 and 2001, the
movement achieved greater visibility through sustained grassroots organizing efforts and
creative public policy responses, driven largely by a growing child care staffing crisis, an
overall economic boom in the U.S., and the passage in 1996 of national welfare reform
legislation.  It was also invigorated and inspired by other burgeoning economic justice
movements. While not yet drawn into the mainstream of U.S. public policy debates, the
issue of inadequate compensation became a staple of discourse and activity within the
child care field.
This paper explore each phase of the movement with respect to:
– The economic and policy climate, including the level of demand for services,
public resources dedicated to child care, the characteristics of the workforce, and
broader social trends in employment;
– Key players, including their relations to others within the child care community,
their links to other movements, and organizational structures and alliances;
– The primary assumptions and key strategies employed by activists, including
short- and long-term goals, and organizing, policy and public education
– Accomplishments, missteps and challenges.
These reflections have been synthesized from four group dialogues, as well as
numerous individual conversations with other activists and advocates who are
knowledgeable about the movement. Many of these players are quoted throughout the
paper.  I have also relied on historical materials such as newsletters, pamphlets and
articles developed by various groups in the movement.  Wherever possible, I have tried to
show how each phase of the movement has influenced the next, and how challenges
facing the movement around strategy, organizational form and the structure of the
industry itself have been resolved or have persisted.  The final section of the paper
focuses on lessons learned and suggests next steps for the compensation movement.

  1. December 8, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I admire anyone who is an educator of children. Thank you to all.

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