This week the Seattle City Council unanimously passed Seattle’s Rescue Plan. For the first time ever, the compensation of child care workers will be augmented with $3 million of public funding.
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. Despite the challenges before them, the SCCBC members figured out how to leverage public funding for child care workers, something which has never been done before. They built a coalition including the Seattle Education Association, Protec17, El Centro de la Raza, Tiny Tots Child Care Center, Small Faces Child Care, and numerous other child care centers. SCCBC met with city councilmembers, organized fact sheets, developed and circulated petitions, and spoke with city officials and elected leaders. They prevailed, for the good of the workers, the children for whom they care and the families of those children, and for the good of the city.
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.
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. The $3 million in funding will enable a $1,000 bonus for child care workers this year. The pandemic compensation increase 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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