In July 2021, the City of Seattle took an important step to recognize the importance of child care workers, approving appreciation payments for those who served on the front lines at the height of the pandemic.
When COVID-19 hit last spring, Governor Inslee declared child care workers essential. But with so many businesses forced to close and others shifting to work-from home, many child care providers also closed or reduced capacity. Crosscut reported that about 1,000 child care programs across the state closed temporarily between March and late August for pandemic-related reasons. Those closures affected about one-quarter of the state’s child care slots.
Child care centers that could stay open saved the day for working parents, especially other essential workers and first responders. The centers that remained open jumped on task and developed protocols for extra cleaning, handling food, and innovative ways to engage children while keeping safe from COVID-19 months before public health departments shared procedures. Providers were on the front lines just as experts learned how fast and fiercely the virus was spreading. Angie Maxie, Director of Tiny Tots Childcare Development Center, recalls, “We didn’t know if the virus was on our shoes, clothes or baby blankets. We had to take every possible precaution to keep everyone safe”. They absorbed the costs to implement new cleaning and safety protocols. With schools closed, child care providers also took on new roles guiding school-age children with remote learning.
Child care workers are among the lowest-paid workers in our state, despite undertaking one of the most essential jobs in our country. In the Seattle metropolitan area, the average wage for child care workers in 2019 was just $16.28, far from a living wage. They are overwhelmingly women and disproportionately BIPOC women.
After hearing directly from Seattle’s child care provider community, the City Council agreed to direct $3 million of the $239 million the City received from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan in lump-sum payments to child care workers. The bonuses are to recognize the essential service they provided during the pandemic and to help stabilize the child care industry.
While a one-time payment does not address the wage disparities that child care workers face, it does show the appreciation that these workers deserve. These payments are a start, but we need to come up with permanent solutions that address the lack of livable wages within the child care industry and assure sustained public funding for high quality, affordable, and accessible child care and early learning for all our kids and families. The well-being of our children and a thriving, equitable economy depend on it.
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