JOHNSTOWN, Pa .– Jody Jurgevich sees fast food restaurants offering work incentives and sign-up bonuses and hopes his employees don’t leave.
“Here we are in day care centers, where the workers don’t get much more than the minimum wage and they don’t get any benefits,” she said.
Jurgevich is director of the Trinity Lutheran Childcare and Learning Center in Somerset, Pennsylvania. She said that in order to raise wages, parents would have to pay more than they do now – and childcare is already one of the biggest expenses for a household.
“It’s scary to think about the future of child care programs,” she says.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, childcare services are mentioned in the same speech as infrastructure.
While child care has been at the center of economic strategies in past crises, the emphasis has been temporary. The first and only time in American history that parents were able to send their children to affordable, federally-subsidized child care, regardless of their income, was during World War II, so mothers could enter. in the labor market. After the war, mothers left the workforce and the childcare program ended.
In 2020, among families of married couples with children, about 60% of families had both parents employed, according to a national survey by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Single-wage earners are becoming scarce, said Cara Ciminillo, executive director of Trying Together, a Pittsburgh-based children’s advocacy group.
“We have to find a way to support families,” she said. “I think the big part of early childhood education is that it’s a bipartisan issue. It comes down to the question of how much are we investing in it?
About $ 1.18 billion from the US Congressional Rescue Plan has been earmarked for child care in Pennsylvania in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding is expected to be allocated in the budget cycle starting this summer and would be administered over the next several years.
As the state decides how to invest these funds, Ciminillo said Trying Together recommends adding funds to meet the needs of the child care workforce.
“If you’re an educator who only makes $ 11 an hour, but you can go to Giant Eagle or Aldi and earn $ 14 an hour, that’s where you’re going to go,” he said. she declared. “One of the things I think we need to take into account is, how do we make sure that the workforce is paid in a way that allows them to do the work that we need? “
Child care workers in Pennsylvania earn an average of $ 24,000 per year, or $ 11.57 per hour, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In the spring of 2020, many people at the bottom of the income scale were made redundant or left the workforce entirely due to the pandemic.
Across the country, the number of full-time child care workers declined 19%, or 90,000 workers, from 2019 to 2020, according to data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many daycare workers worked during the pandemic. Cambria County Child Development Corp. provided daycare for teachers in the Greater Johnstown School District during the COVID-19 peak, Superintendent Amy Arcurio said.
“During the COVID-19 lockdown, we had child care services for all employees,” she said. “They could bring in children. “
Even before the pandemic, Leah Spangler, president of Learning Lamp, a Johnstown-based preschool education group, had worked to create a more stable child care workforce in the area.
“It’s a broken economic model,” she said. “I feel bad for the parents because I fully realize that child care could be their biggest expense, including more than their mortgage. Likewise, I realize that even with these payments which cost parents dearly, we are still not able to pay a competitive salary to the caregivers of these children. “
The learning lamp has become the hub of a shared services alliance allowing providers in the region to begin pooling their resources to recruit staff. The alliance has grown from three to more than 30 members in the three years since its inception, Spangler said.
Alliance members can save money by pooling resources for administrative services, said Jen DeBell, director of the Pennsylvania Association for Early Childhood Education. PAEYC coaches providers on how to form alliances.
“It’s also possible that when programs save money through things like shared services, they invest in their teachers’ salaries to retain them,” DeBell said.
Jurgevich signed on to Trinity Lutheran Childcare to be one of the first providers to join the alliance.
“Suppliers are no longer competitors – we’re all in the same boat,” she said. “We try to serve families in the community the best we can, and it’s hard to keep turning families away.”