This past Thursday, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda convened a press conference to announce their plans for investing Seattle’s first round of federal American Rescue Plan funds. The Mayor and Councilmember were not alone. Angie Hicks-Maxie, Executive Director of Tiny Tots Child Care Center in Southeast Seattle, also spoke at the press conference to celebrate the city’s $3 million investment in child care provider pandemic wages, the first Seattle has ever made in child care provider compensation.
This significant step forward for child care workers in Seattle was only made possible through the catalytic and thoughtful organizing of the Seattle Child Care Business Coalition (SCCBC). SCCBC is a network of providers who came together to figure out how to best provide adequate care during the pandemic, deemed an essential service. However, while recognized as essential, child care workers and centers received little guidance or assistance from local, state, and federal governments and minimal support from private philanthropy or corporate businesses, which thrived during the pandemic. Despite the challenges before them, the SCCBC members decided to lean on each other to figure out how to survive and contribute as essential workers.
Even before COVID-19, the child care industry was in crisis. Providers and teachers did not make enough to stay in the field, with most workers receiving little more than $16 an hour in King County. Many providers were either working their way into poverty, or leaving careers in early learning to find jobs with higher compensation and greater respect. Then the pandemic hit and nearly brought the industry to collapse. Center costs per child increased by $500 a month due to mandated COVID regulations, PPE, distancing, and decreased ratios of children to caregiver. One out of ten child care providers closed their businesses, with a quarter of child caregivers and teachers leaving the workforce. To jump-start our economic recovery and build back better child care must be affordable and readily available to allow working parents to return to their jobs.
The Seattle Child Care Business Coalition understood that until child care providers were paid a living wage and the early learning field gained respect from society, we couldn’t build back better, and so began to organize and advocate for an essential child care worker wage increase. SCCBC met with city councilmembers, organized fact sheets, developed and circulated petitions, and spoke with city officials and elected leaders. Yesterday the first fruit of these efforts ripened, with the Mayor and Councilmember Mosqueda announcing $3 million for increased compensation for child care workers in our city. The funding will enable a $2 an hour wage increase for child care workers, moving the average wage up to approximately $18.50. The pandemic wage increase for child care providers is a good first step from the city of Seattle, one which must lead to further improvements in compensation and child care.
While this funding is only available for the remainder of the year, it sets the agenda for permanent public support for child care compensation. It is time our society recognizes child care as a public good and values the care infrastructure as foundational to a thriving economy. In building back better, we cannot afford to leave our workers in the care economy behind.
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