Georgia’s Child Care Workers Are Among the Lowest Paid in the Nation

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From Georgia Public Broadcasting
Updated: June 15, 2023
By: Ellen Eldridge

Georgia needs more federal and state government investment in child care, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP).

Their annual KIDS COUNT Data Book report uses information from early in the pandemic through 2021. During that time, 7% of caregivers for preschool age children were forced from Georgia’s workforce.

Caregivers left their jobs, changed jobs, or refused jobs because of issues with obtaining, scheduling and paying for day care.

Georgia Family Connection Partnership believes that working parents should not have to choose between working and being a parent, GaFCP’s strategic innovation manager Arianne Weldon said.

The partnership happens at the community level, she said, by working with local communities to devise strategies to support people’s care needs both immediately and long term.

Georgians who need child care are faring better than people in other states, Weldon said.

“But Georgia’s child care workers are among the lowest paid in the nation,” Weldon said. “They earned a median wage of $11.71 per hour in 2022. That’s $2 less than the national average.”

Nationally, those who are entrusted with the education and care of Georgia’s youngest residents earn lower wages than 98% of professions, Weldon said.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s average cost of center-based child care is 3.9% more than the average cost of in-state tuition for public four-year universities, according to the Data Book.

In April, President Joe Biden signed an executive order acknowledging that high turnover rates in the child care industry exacerbate the worsening workforce shortage.

As number of employed caregivers drops, more and more children need care.

The pandemic worsened an existing gap between those who need care and those who provide it. A national survey published fall 2021 from the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers found that, over the course of care, 44% of family caregivers previously employed full time said they had to go part time.

A fifth of working caregivers in Georgia told RCI they had to quit their jobs entirely.

COVID-19 resulted in people who had serious illness and needed to come home from a hospital and have a family member care for them.

That part of the pandemic exposed preexisting issues with family stability, including food insecurity, access to housing and physical and mental health care.

The federal COVID relief money that has helped many families since 2020 is set to run out this fall. That means parents could see costs rise as child care providers will almost certainly have to increase their fees.

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) received a total of $2 billion in federal COVID relief money. Some of that runs out in September, and another portion of the money runs out in September 2024.

DECAL Commissioner of Bright from the Start Amy Jacobs said agreed that, when the money runs out, it’s going to be a hardship for child care providers, but the state retained all 4,500 licensed providers.

Jacobs credited DECAL’s $1.5 billion investment with helping child care providers keep their doors open and pay their staff throughout the pandemic.

“And we knew this going in and we’ve tried to prepare them as much as we possibly could because it is one-time money that will go away either this September or September of 2024,” Jacobs said.

About the author
Ellen Eldridge is the senior health care reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting.

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