Making childcare affordable shouldn’t come at the expense of workers, says report

toys at a kindergarten
(Image by Alexander Vollmer from Pixabay)
toys at a kindergarten
(Image by Alexander Vollmer from Pixabay)

Childcare is expensive. In Nevada, childcare costs more than college.

But equally problematic is the condition of early childhood educators, who get paid significantly less than similarly trained K-8 teachers and are more likely to be living in poverty themselves.

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute draws attention to this aspect of the state of early childhood education in the United States today, calling it “the elephant in the room” that is getting lost because the focus of reform is always on improving access and affordability for families.

“Early care and education is substantially ‘funded’ through low teacher pay and inadequate supports for (early childhood) teachers, who are primarily women, specifically women of color,” reads an introduction to the report.

EPI data finds that Nevada’s early childhood educators with a bachelor’s degree are paid 44 percent less than teachers in the K-8 system, which itself isn’t known for paying teachers wonderfully. Early educators are more likely to be living in poverty. Their poverty rate is 12.1 percent higher than for all Nevada workers and 5.8 times that of other teachers.

EPI estimates that a childcare system that includes fair wages would cost the state of Nevada somewhere between $2.9 billion to $3.9 billion dollars, or $26,000 to $28,000 per child, annually.

That is a lot, to put it lightly — 1.7 to 2.3 percent of Nevada’s Gross Domestic Product.

But the EPI report argues increased investment in public spending, particularly at the federal level, would have a greater return on investment financially through tax revenue. (And that is to say nothing of the immeasurable societal benefit of ensuring proper care for young children.)

According to the EPI, Nevada typically receives about $110.7 million annually in federal funding to support early care and education, while families collectively pay $357.5 million.

The EPI report does not estimate what those lost wages are in Nevada specifically, but it estimates that nationally $30 billion to $35 billion in income is lost due to parents leaving jobs or reducing their hours in order to care for children. Those lost wages translate into $4.2 billion annually in lost tax revenue nationally.

EPI estimates the U.S. spends $34 billion on early childhood education and care (not including kindergarten), or 0.18 percent of the national GDP.

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.