Doing nails pays better than caring for kids in Washington

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Child care workers in Washington help build the brains of the state’s youngest residents, but they make only slightly more a year than parking-lot attendants, according to a new federal report. The annual median wage for child care workers — $23,520 — also was about $3,000 less than what manicurists-pedicurists earn.

Wages are better for teachers who work for federally funded Head Start preschools ($30,241), but that’s still far below the median salary for kindergarten teachers: $55,020.

The pay gaps reflect the outdated notion that child care is just baby-sitting, despite decades of research showing that children begin learning from the moment they’re born, and that the first five years set the stage for success in school and life. That means teaching toddlers is as complex and important as teaching elementary-age kids and requires the same expertise. In a 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, those groups recommended a bachelor’s degree at least, plus much more training.

But college graduates are unlikely to be drawn to a job that pays so little that workers can receive what used to be called food stamps.

Child care teachers’ median wage of $23,500 in Washington is low enough to qualify a family of three for help buying food. That’s true in every state, according to the report from the U.S. departments of Education, and Health and Human Services. The report cites data from a 2013 U.S. survey that pegged the U.S. median salary for child care teachers at $20,320.

Last year, the Washington Department of Early Learning reported that owners of home-based child care businesses made more than that: a median annual salary of $37,000 if it was the family’s sole source of income.