Worthy Wage Day: Educators Deserve a Raise

Today is Worthy Wage Day, a day of action organized by the American Federation of Teachers to raise public awareness about the low wages that too many early childhood educators earn, the chronic underfunding of early education, and the teacher retention crisis we’re facing as a result.

When I served as U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Obama Administration, one of the greatest obstacles we faced in the fight to raise wages for low-income workers was the common misconception about who it would help. It helps providers and breadwinners — people with bills to pay, mouths to feed, and serious family responsibilities. In fact, the average worker who would benefit from a raise in the minimum wage is responsible for half their household income. Among them are many of the early childhood educators and care workers that so many of us depend on every day.

Full-time workers earning the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 only bring home about $14,500 a year in wages, which is below the poverty line for a family of two. About 48 percent of preschool teachers and about 82 percent of child care workers make less than $15/hour.[1]

Research from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley shows that about half of child care workers are receiving some sort of government assistance.[2] This, despite the fact that early childhood educators are doing skilled, important work. They shape future generations of our workforce and play an essential role in helping our economy grow. Parents rely on early education programs so they can work with the peace of mind that comes with knowing their young children are safe and thriving. Families struggle to find affordable high-quality programs that don’t have a wait list. At the same time, the dedicated teachers and staff in early education programs struggle to stay in a job they love because of the low wages, few benefits and barely any supports.

I’ve said before that I think public sector workers — our teachers, our firefighters, our home health workers — are doing God’s work. They are some of our most important employees. That list includes child care workers, pre-K teachers and staff, before- and after-school staff, summer care program staff and everyone keeping our children safe, loved and learning. That’s why, as Chair of the Democratic Party, I’m proud that our official platform includes strong support for high-quality, affordable child care, universal pre-kindergarten, and higher wages for the early childhood workforce.

Unfortunately, everything we’ve seen so far from the Trump Administration would only drag us backwards. Trump’s budget slashes teacher training and does nothing to fund early education programs or expand access to affordable high-quality child care and pre-K. At the same time, Trump wants to give big tax breaks to wealthy families who can already afford expensive childcare.

That’s the wrong direction for our nation. Too many workers are already leaving this field in high numbers because of low wages. We should be investing in our early-childhood workforce by raising their wages. We should be building a society that moves low-income educators and childcare workers into the middle class where they belong.

Our economy is strongest when we open the doors of opportunity to everyone and recognize that the American Dream should exclude no one. At the DNC, we’re working every day to elect candidates across the country at every level of government, from the school board to the Senate, who will fight for teachers, families, workers, and an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top.

[1] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes399011.htm
[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/11/the-people-taking-care-of-our-kids-live-in-poverty/?utm_term=.96c288748bd2