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Women Working in Home-based Child Care Are Experiencing the Worst of Pay Inequity

Pay inequity is an issue that plagues women in the workforce, as demonstrated by the gender wage gap, and home-based child care providers experience some of the worst of it.

“Most home-based providers like myself got into this field because we understand,” Danielle Caldwell, a 30-year home-based child care veteran, said. “Most of us are mothers. We want to help families, so we work the long days and extra hours and take on additional roles without expecting additional pay.” 

Danielle now focuses on child care advocacy and consulting. 

“When I began my advocacy journey, my focus was to ask, or literally beg, the state to increase child care funding. As I started to deepen my understanding of how systems work, I realized how the pay inequities we face as child care providers are a social issue. At first, I didn’t make the connection,” she said.

During her professional development, Danielle learned how the racist and sexist origins of child care work have left providers struggling to make ends meet today. The United States’ child care industry started with employing women of color to support white and wealthy families. These women were expected to provide quality care for little or no pay. This foundational history shapes the inequities found in the child care system today. Child care workers continue to make up one of the most underpaid segments of the workforce. This disparity is especially troubling when we consider that 97% of home-based child care providers are women and nearly half are women of color. Currently, on average, women earn 84 cents for every dollar men earn. In child care, data shows that men received a wage of $12.58 per hour while women were paid $11.54 per hour, showing that the pay inequity persists even in the woman-dominated industry.

“When I began my advocacy journey, my focus was to ask, or literally beg, the state to increase child care funding. As I started to deepen my understanding of how systems work, I realized how the pay inequities we face as child care providers are a social issue. At first, I didn’t make the connection.”

Danielle Caldwell, home-based child care provider and advocate

One of the reasons for the pay inequity is the concept of “women’s work.” In our male-dominated society, the urgency to resolve issues that primarily impact women is easily overlooked. Many home-based providers felt more valued during the COVID-19 pandemic when the federal government and states started to recognize child care as essential work. Providers experienced an increase in federal funding that allowed many home-based programs to stay open so that families could work. When the emergency funding ended in September 2023, the effects of the pandemic left many providers in a worse-off financial position than before. The expiration of federal support coupled with the rising costs of goods and industry-wide low wages left providers struggling to not only keep their doors open but also to support their own families.

“During COVID, we got help to pay for supplies and stabilize our income because the government said that child care was important. It keeps the country working. Since then the prices of everything have risen, but that funding has evaporated,” explains Penny Gerking, a licensed home-based provider in Auburn, Nebraska. “On an income of maybe $15 or $16 an hour, it’s hard for caregivers to provide for their own families. I’ve had to raise my rates, which passes the cost on to families.”

For many traditionally low-wage jobs, the impact of the rising cost of goods prompted successful advocacy efforts for hourly wage increases to help attract and retain a quality workforce. For the child care industry, however, wages only grew an average of 3.1% from 2019 to 2022 compared to 8.7% for food- and beverage-serving workers and 5.6% for retail sales workers. The misogynistic undertones of this inequity are very clear. That which is considered “women’s work” is not seen as valuable or worth the investment.

Danielle Caldwell and a few little one’s in her home-based child care program in North Carolina enjoying the outdoors.

Another example of the devaluation of “women’s work” can be seen in Danielle’s experiences with receiving federal child care vouchers that encourage long, underpaid hours for child care providers. “When I first got into this industry … I would never take a day off. I worked seven days a week, two shifts, and I did that for about eight years, just not understanding my value, and taking on the ‘martyrdom’ that to provide quality care I had to be available for other families all the time. Which meant putting myself last.”

Home-based providers often work an average of 10 to 12 hours each day caring for children and still must make time to handle administrative duties and other responsibilities such as cleaning, gathering supplies and other chores to ensure their programs are ready for the next day. In addition to this, many of these women have children of their own and have other personal responsibilities that come with the unequal division of labor during the hidden second shift at home.

The commitment to working this hard regardless of how challenging the realities of pay inequity are is simple for many women. 

“We do it because we care,” Danielle shares. She isn’t the only home-based provider making sacrifices.

BriAnne Moline, a home-based child care provider in Montana, recently shared with USA Today the lengths she has had to go to in order to keep her program afloat amid financial challenges. This includes everything from working four additional part-time jobs to giving plasma twice a week. “The only thing that keeps me here is the fact that I’m just really passionate about what I do,” she said. 

When they are not facing pay inequities, the women in home-based child care battle exclusion from essential supports such as those included in the Social Security Act of 1935, which explicitly excludes workforce protections for domestic and agricultural workers – industries that are historically dominated by women and people of color.

Danielle’s advocacy work involves organizing and mentoring other providers, as well as consulting with organizations, such as National Workforce Registry Alliance (NWRA), to provide a home-based provider’s perspective. Home Grown partners with NWRA to support Danielle in this role and encourages other organizations to find ways to include home-based providers as paid partners and advisers to help navigate solutions for these types of issues. 

As a thought leader and advocate, Danielle encourages other providers to speak up boldly. “We have been nice for way too long. We have to continue to fight hard for what we deserve and push the government and states to invest [in child care] because they need us.”

Venette Pierre is the Communications Manager Home Grown. Her background includes marketing, public relations and community development. She is passionate about advocating for access to quality supports for underserved communities and storytelling through digital communications.


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