Caring for monkeys pays better than caring for children
November 23, 2014 7:03 AM   Subscribe

"Childcare providers’ wage growth was lower than the growth in wages paid to fast food workers. They were consistently in the bottom second or third percentile in salary rankings, sharing that status with parking lot attendants, laundry workers, fast food employees, and bartenders. Perhaps most strikingly, the people who care for our youngest children earn less than those who care for animals in zoos or homes."
posted by COD (56 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
The thing is, most parents can't afford to pay more for childcare. The only way this is going to change, and it needs to change, is if we see childcare as a public good, like education, and require everyone to help pay for it through taxes. State-subsidized childcare would be on the short list of things that I would provide tomorrow if I were suddenly to rule the world, or at least the country.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:11 AM on November 23, 2014 [49 favorites]


State-subsidized childcare would be on the short list of things that I would provide tomorrow if I were suddenly to rule the world, or at least the country.

Hell yes. I don't have kids and probably never will, and I'd happily pay taxes towards this.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:14 AM on November 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


Which is more difficult and requires more training? Monkeys or children?
posted by cjorgensen at 7:16 AM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


Monkeys don't require 24-7 observation to keep themselves safe, whereas a young child is probably not capable of feeding themselves without the aid of an adult.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:21 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Monkey are cuter. I'm ok with this.
posted by Renoroc at 7:21 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


My personal experience is exactly in line with the article. My wife was a pre-school teacher through a lot of the 90s. When she quit in 97 (because the math said staying home with our two kids made more sense then spending over half her paycheck on discounted daycare) she was making $9.75 an hour. When she went back to work in 2010 her first few offers were below $9 an hour to be a lead teacher, which requires a 4-year degree in many states, including ours. Kindercare is closing 100 schools a year, and we are quickly approaching a daycare crisis in this country. The private daycare industry is going to collapse. The math isn't working - costs are too high and the schools can't pass the costs to the parents because they can't afford to pay it. The teachers are barely making minimum wage today, and child-teacher ratios are state-mandated, so the places to cut costs are limited, if you aren't going to cheat on ratios.
posted by COD at 7:22 AM on November 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


Monkey are cuter. I'm ok with this.

A monkey is (probably) not going to be the person in charge of your emergency surgery someday.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:22 AM on November 23, 2014 [20 favorites]


To be fair, the costs of monkey care have not historically been subsumed into the great unaccounted for in capitalism category of "women's work."

I mean, of course you pay your monkey handlers! It's not like you can just marry one!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:23 AM on November 23, 2014 [73 favorites]


I've been working in and out of jobs that could be considered 'childcare' or overlap somewhat with childcare for a while now. Mostly I do things that are more categorized as 'teaching' and work with older kids, but the younger the kids and the closer to "just childcare", the worse the job is in my experience-- and I love little kids. Not only are the wages low, but people treat you like you're dumb and it's exhausting work-- the summer I had to watch 16 4-6 year olds with the help of one teenage assistant was the longest summer of my life. I was having stress dreams about those kids.

All this and it's not like you can make mistakes, either. I've had a ton of jobs, and the younger the kids are and the more straight childcare the job is, the less tolerance there is for mistakes. If I make a mistake on the schedule at my current job as a program coordinator a couple times a year, it's not a huge deal. If I turn my back and a four year old toddles off and hides in the bushes for fifteen minutes that's a HUGE deal and heaven forbid a parent find out.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:30 AM on November 23, 2014 [10 favorites]


The way our society works, this will lead to an immediate reduction in pay for people who take care of monkeys.
posted by kewb at 7:36 AM on November 23, 2014 [31 favorites]


The province of Quebec has subsidized, $7 per day universal child care. The province just announced those who can afford more will have to start paying more (ie if you make six figures then it will be closer to $20 per day).

It's still better than in the rest of Canada. With an election on the horizon the Conservatives just announced monthly child care benefits will go up by $60. Their spin is that they're giving us back our tax money so we can choose our child care options. In reality 60 bucks will get you three or four days of child care in most major cities.
posted by Brodiggitty at 7:37 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, as a monkey studier, I will say that monkey-related work is not hugely well paid. Childcare should aim higher!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:38 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Which is more difficult and requires more training? Monkeys or children?

Well, I've done both of these things, though the monkey-caring was in a volunteer capacity, so if I'm off the mark I defer to professional mokey-carers. Children are more difficult. Monkeys (in terms of day-to-day care only, obviously there are lots of more skilled positions) primarily require a familiarity with procedure and a willingness to scoop a lot of poop and chop a lot of veggies. Childcare requires coaxing kids out of tantrums, dealing with parents, breaking up fights, getting and keeping the attention of lots of kids at once, a knowledge of child development, lesson planning (sometimes), first aid, and in general being in 15 places at once at all times.

With that said, it's not like people who care for monkeys are raking in the big bucks, either, so this is an odd comparison.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:40 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Zookeepers already get paid pretty appallingly low wages, especially for the amount of education and dangerous physical labor the job requires. It shocking how poorly-paid childcare is.

Also geegollygosh as hit on one of the hardest parts of caring for small children: no room for mistakes. You have to do things the right way, every time, no matter how exhausted or frustrated you are. If you screw up, kid can die. It is enormously emotionally exhausting.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:42 AM on November 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


so this is an odd comparison

It's also a comparison which does not seem to be raised in the study they're reporting on. I'm not sure it was more than a rhetorical flourish. It's probably best ignored. The issue is "how much should we pay childcare workers" not "should childcare workers be paid more than zoo workers."
posted by yoink at 8:11 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Monkeys don't require 24-7 observation to keep themselves safe...

To be fair, we can keep the monkeys in a cage.


Every daycare I've ever been in does wonders trying to provide a stimulating and loving environment for their kids with minimal resources, both material and human. It's damn hard. You may do OK, but you don't get rich running a daycare, and you barely eek a living working in one. Fer sure workers go home tired, stressed, depleted and with half-empty pockets--often to their own kids, to attempt to provide loving care for them at the end of a long day.

After seeing what my daughter pays for decent childcare for two, on two working professionals salaries, and what it does to their income, I'm aghast. Deus help families with two parents working minimum wage. The stresses must be nearly insurmountable. Childcare workers are among those working for a pitiable wage. Our treatment of kids, the ill, differently-abled, and the aged, and our devaluation of those who care for them indicate our society doesn't value it's most vulnerable members.

I was fortunate to stay home with my gang, although to be sure, I couldn't have afforded to put them in daycare. This was solely on my husband's salary. There's no way it can happen now. The cost to kids (and families) in terms of what they lose because parents are paying out the nose for daycare is incontestable.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:26 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's probably best ignored. The issue is "how much should we pay childcare workers" not "should childcare workers be paid more than zoo workers."

I agree, sorry for taking it in that direction. Rereading my comment, I also want to clarify that I didn't mean to belittle the jobs of zookeepers-- I know there's a lot of education, knowledge and work that goes into that job and I hope that my comment didn't make it seem like I don't realize that. /end derail/
posted by geegollygosh at 8:27 AM on November 23, 2014


BlueHorse: "The cost to kids (and families) in terms of what they lose because parents are paying out the nose for daycare is incontestable."

There was a report not too long ago that in my state, birth-to-kindergarten daycare now costs more than four years tuition at the flagship state university.

So basically you are paying a second, front-loaded college tuition for your children, when you are early-career and not making as much money as you will be when your kids are college-aged, and there are no loans available for it.

It's also unsettling to me how many families we know who have decided on their family size or spacing based almost entirely on the cost of daycare. I don't have a problem with it being part of the calculus, but making hugely important decisions about family composition solely via the crushing cost of daycare is really bad national policy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:41 AM on November 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


There have been studies on the economic impact of the Quebec subsidized childcare system. The last report I dug up showed that for every dollar of subsidy, several dollars were returned to the government in the form of tax revenue generated by increased economic activity.

IOW, the financially responsible policy is to provide heavily subsidized childcare.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 AM on November 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


The cost of childcare has also created a shadow industry of "home daycare"...essentially someone running a daycare out of their home, with no training, certification, inspection, etc. While they can still be pricey, they are always much cheaper than for-real daycare. The market at work, I guess. Shame about the kids who end up parked in front of a tv all day, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:52 AM on November 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


BlueHorse: You may do OK, but you don't get rich running a daycare.

Daycares I've seen fall into two categories: sketchy places that exist to keep kids alive while single moms work three jobs to stay afloat and well-to-do child enrichment centers that keep little Jayden/Brayden/OsamaBinLayden stimulated while parents work their high-powered jobs.

If you own the latter, you're doing well. If you own the former, you're lucky to scrape by. It's a sign of the times, to be sure.
posted by dr_dank at 8:54 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Shame about the kids who end up parked in front of a tv all day, though.

That was with my mom, at home (and the kids she was doing at-home daycare with). We weren't passive in front of the tv - we acted out the cartoons we'd seen 10 times.
posted by jb at 9:02 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad: "The cost of childcare has also created a shadow industry of "home daycare"...essentially someone running a daycare out of their home, with no training, certification, inspection, etc. "

Two women on my street run unlicensed in-home day cares.

A few years back, one of them had, during day care hours, a home-destroying massive house fire. It is by the grace of God that all of those children got out, since they're all cared for by one 70-year-old woman and she had five under school age, a couple of whom were still crawling, and only two school-aged who could evacuate themselves.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:04 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


There was a report not too long ago that in my state, birth-to-kindergarten daycare now costs more than four years tuition at the flagship state university.

I'm working in a small town with a pretty modest median income. I just checked a couple of places, and having one kid in a legal daycare would cost between $600 and $1400 per month, or between $5k and $17k per year, plus various other fees and charges. And that's just for one kid; adding a second basically doubles that (though with a small discount at some places), and under two years old costs more as well. The upper end of that is well above the cost of tuition and fees at the flagship state university, of course.

When I was in graduate school, people I knew were paying between $10k and $12k for childcare while earning at that time a graduate stipend of around $20k or as an assistant professor's salary of perhaps $65k, which is obviously not very workable unless you have an employed spouse or family money. And again, that was for one kid over the age of two, and assumed you could get a space in the nearby place with the long waiting list.

There's no wonder people rely on family, unlicensed daycares, or drop out of the workforce, just based on the simple math.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:28 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I read this article twice and I don't see the answer to the question - why are wages so low, if the cost of childcare is so high?
posted by desjardins at 9:39 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


or hey, kill two birds with one stone: pay all workers enough to support a family on one wage.

on the other hand, that would decimate the demand for childcare.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:42 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


why are wages so low, if the cost of childcare is so high?

The number of employees per customer is much, much higher than virtually any other industry.

Back-of-the-envelope math: If all the providers make minimum wage, that's $7.25 an hour minimum. Most kids are in day care for about 10 hours (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.), so we'll make that $72.50 per "kid shift". Burden rate (benefits, taxes, etc.) for an employee are at best 50 percent, so that's up to around $100 per kid shift. In most states, the minimum number of kids per caregiver is 5 or 6, so that's near $20 per day per kid, or $100 per week, or $5K per year.

And that is just what the parent is paying for one-fifth of one worker. That doesn't take into account anything else. Facilities (including upkeep, heating, cooling, water, power...), licensing, insurance, management, food (and more people to prepare it), probably vehicles (and drivers), extra staff in case of illness...

But it really comes down to the cost and density of labor.
posted by Etrigan at 10:03 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


ennui.bz: "or hey, kill two birds with one stone: pay all workers enough to support a family on one wage. on the other hand, that would decimate the demand for childcare."

Na, sounds more like a recipe for higher rents:

We're raising rents by 30 percent. If you don't like it, we can easily fill your apartment with another single, childless programmer. Feel free to join us in blaming ObamaDayCare.

Signed,
Management"

posted by pwnguin at 10:34 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


The number of employees per customer is much, much higher than virtually any other industry.

So, this math all makes sense. But it doesn't help me understand why this is apparently a new-ish problem. Or is it not?

I don't know how this could have been cheaper in past years, unless the ratio of children to caregivers was changed. Clearly there's the issue of middle class people making less money, but if you increase middle class pay you're also (hopefully) increasing the pay of the caregivers, right? I feel like there's some piece of the puzzle I'm missing.
posted by primethyme at 10:40 AM on November 23, 2014


Costs for everything had continued to increase for the last 20-30 years, while real income for the class of people that use daycare (those that can't afford private nannies) have been essentially stagnant in that time period. Etrigan's math isn't bad, but understates the problem. In many if not most states now the lead teacher must have a 4 year college degree in Education or something similar. Even the assistant teachers often need a child care certificate, which can easily require 6-8 classes at a community college. So realistically you aren't paying everybody minimum wage. Then factor in liability insurance and all the other costs and even the uppity preschools catering to the six figure income crowd are really barely hanging on right now.

Back in 97 when my wife quit we looked into starting our own daycare. A wealthy lawyer friend was interested in investing to put a daycare on the first floor of the office building she worked in. There were a lot of younger attorneys with kids in the firm, so there was a built in higher income client base. Me and her husband did some research and attended an all day seminar on how to run a daycare. The math didn't work. We needed 3-5 daycares to spread the liability insurance across enough kids to make the math work, and this was in 1996 or 97. It's only gotten worse since then.

Ironically, parents haven't a clue how poorly paid the teachers are. The schools advertise that all teachers have 4-year degrees blah blah blah and the parents assume that they are being like college graduates. My wife went from getting back into teaching in 2010 to running a Kindercare by 2012. I've seen the P&L for a Kindercare, that's why I say the math simply isn't working anymore.
posted by COD at 11:00 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I started a comment with "I'm a nonparent but" and then went on about individuals forming daycare collectives and blah blah blah, but you really don't need a nonparent's solution here. Just suffice to say that it pisses me off that my tax money is being used for war and not in ways to take care of people-- old, sick, poor, or babies.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:07 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


primethyme: "But it doesn't help me understand why this is apparently a new-ish problem. Or is it not?"


  • Increased regulation and liability costs, especially since the 1980s, is part of it.
  • More single-parent families, which tend to have greater paid child-care needs.
  • Massive growth of women in the workforce (1950: 68% of families had a wife in the home; 2012: only 30% do)
  • Welfare-to-work in 1996 essentially ending the option for poor women to stay home with their children until school age, dramatically increasing the need for low-cost daycare. (Essentially requiring impoverished single mothers to work full-time for minimum wage and pay that full amount over to daycare for their children if they want to qualify for rent and food assistance.)

    Essentially demand has more than doubled while regulation of the sector has massively increased, and the more women who are in the workforce, the harder it is to make informal care arrangements with family or friends, further increasing the demand.

  • posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:40 AM on November 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


    When I was in NYC we thought about a neighborhood coop / collective daycare with friends. Until we saw that the regulations and requirements applied equally to that.
    posted by jpe at 11:42 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


    So basically you are paying a second, front-loaded college tuition for your children, when you are early-career and not making as much money as you will be when your kids are college-aged, and there are no loans available for it.

    Oh my god, don't give Wall Street any ideas.

    We don't want to pay for childcare as a society because that would mean that we finally saw it as something that is the responsibility of all members of a society, and not just a problem for individual women to figure out, a problem they wouldn't have if they would just give up their right to be anything but unpaid labor.

    Oh and the cost of daycare was crippling, and a major factor in why we didn't have another. And we weren't paying for high-end care; we had to pull him out of a few places because we saw things happen that should not have when we visited unexpectedly. But those places were not any cheaper than the better place he ended up in.
    posted by emjaybee at 12:42 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


    I help manage a nonprofit preschool serving mostly children of the "working poor". Most of our families have their childcare subsidized by the state, which is great for them! It means that young women can go to school, or new families trying to scratch their way slightly higher above the poverty line have a chance to do so.

    However, it also means that we make between 70 and 85% of what it takes to actually provide care for kids. And we provide great care: educated teachers, really small classes, nutritious meals made on site by a young chef with a degree in nutrition, movement class taught by a local dance company, a natural playground and on and on. But we raise like, $10,000 a year for each subsidized child to do that.

    Any you know what? We raise it with a charismatic Executive Director, with grants and a motivated board but mostly because people in our community are willing to help pay for these wonderful kids and working families to get the same chances their more affluent peers get.

    And I always think, "If this many people feel this way, then why can't we all just agree to pitch in and pay a few dollars a year to give the chance to all kids?" And I honestly don't know the answer to that.
    posted by Saminal at 1:57 PM on November 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


    Related: Taking Unpaid Housework (including child care) For Granted Is Wrong.
    posted by heisenberg at 2:34 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


    To be fair, the costs of monkey care have not historically been subsumed into the great unaccounted for in capitalism category of "women's work."

    Which is more difficult and requires more training? Monkeys or children?

    None of these things have anything to do with how capitalism sets wages. Nobody is paid according to how important their work is to society in an abstract sense. They're paid exactly how much it takes to get someone who can do the job to accept the job. If there's someone else who is qualified to do the job and is willing to undercut you, the wage goes down. If companies are finding it hard to attract workers, wages go up.

    Lots of things are hard, useful work. Caring for children, physical labor on construction sites, cleaning and maintenance of buildings, even paramedics. All incredibly important, useful, and difficult jobs that pay very little because the supply of people willing and able to do that job outstrip the demand.

    Not saying capitalism is awesome, but realize that your objections aren't about this one situation -- there are no Official Wage-Setters that decide -- your objection is with wages being tied to an open market of supply and demand.
    posted by the jam at 2:35 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


    It's no surprise that day care is bad. They are like public schools in bad neighborhoods -- broken by the nature of the (lack of) demand for their services.

    Day care is useless for women with demanding careers, with the limitation on hours, sick kid rules, etc. And at the same time nannies are are relatively cheap thanks to illegal immigration and the impossibility of regulating how domestics, even legal ones, are paid.

    As for women with well-paid husbands who wouldn't mind a lower-paid, fixed-schedule job -- that's blown up by the tax system. Why commute for a $60k 9-5 job when federal + state + FICA + AMT is going to hit you for 37.45% to 58.75% taxes. 37.45% is when your husband is only in the 30% tax bracket and you live in a zero state income tax. 58.75% is when he's in the 39% and in California you are also dealing with 12.3% state, 7.45% FICA, with AMT making the state tax non-deductible in many cases.
    posted by MattD at 2:43 PM on November 23, 2014


    I also wonder how the "raise the minimum wage" movement is going to impact day care. McDonald's can find the equilibrium between paying its workers $10/hour by staffing levels and the price of the food, and will also get the benefit of higher quality workers at higher pay. A day care has a fixed minimum level of staffing (so can't get any benefit from attracting more productive workers) and probably cannot pass through a dramatically higher payroll expense in its rates.
    posted by MattD at 2:46 PM on November 23, 2014


    I still think we could start with just providing parents the financial resources to parent their young children themselves. Then people who want to go into the workforce during that time would have an income to pay someone else their earnings so they can do the work they prefer. Single parents would come out exactly even but be in their preferred location. I don't see any reason there has to be an imbalance of pay. If people are really working because they want to, then that is the reward. If they are doing it for the money, then, they already would have that, so it would be optional to choose to be in the paid workforce during that time.

    Also resources for parents to succeed would include health, wellness and educational activities, and training sessions. Make preschool part of the public school system, and free, but give parents the option to just do the work of caring for their kids themselves with the resources to do so.
    posted by xarnop at 2:48 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


    We don't want to pay for childcare as a society because that would mean that we finally saw it as something that is the responsibility of all members of a society

    "It takes a village to raise a child."

    OTOH, there are a lot of people who strongly disagree with the government's interest in ensuring their children are well-educated and safe. They fight sex ed, they fight child protection laws, and they'll fight well-regulated, affordable daycare. They need to indoctrinate their children against the greater good.

    I'll bet that kind of thinking is a lot of the resistance to universal childcare.
    posted by five fresh fish at 3:07 PM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


    I don't know how this could have been cheaper in past years, unless the ratio of children to caregivers was changed. Clearly there's the issue of middle class people making less money, but if you increase middle class pay you're also (hopefully) increasing the pay of the caregivers, right? I feel like there's some piece of the puzzle I'm missing.

    Baumol's cost disease

    This is also most likely why health care and higher education costs keep going up so much faster than inflation. There's no such thing as a productivity increase in these fields. Productivity increases elsewhere in the economy make these labor intensive endeavors increasingly expensive in comparison to other things.
    posted by OnceUponATime at 6:56 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


    OnceUponATime: "There's no such thing as a productivity increase in these fields."

    At least for higher education, there is. Baumol only shows up if you attempt to legislate them away with things like accreditation standards tied to low student:teacher ratios. Think of it like this: if you could completely automate grading, the number of lectures faculty could give would rise. This, I argue, represents one of many potential method of increasing productivity for higher education.

    I suppose it also contradicts Baumol's original hypothesis, since Beethoven quartets of sufficient renown can, with technologies like amplification, produce acceptable performances for thousands. Or, by the miraculous invention of the grammaphone, performers can record their work for replay at a later date, which I'm sure would have reached Baumol's time bubble by the time he published in the 60's.

    Anyways, if you look beyond the headline numbers of higher ed, you'll see that the visible price of education, tuition, is on track with decreased state funding. Small cuts in taxes across the state lead to dramatic increases for the minority, enrolled students. To bring this back full circle, decreasing state subsidies should reduce the number of people studying Early Childhood Education and similar degrees, and potentially allow wages for care providers to rise as competition dwindles. This would likely need to be backed by subsidies at some level since comments upthread have made clear that the care facilities are just barely hanging on as it is.
    posted by pwnguin at 8:07 PM on November 23, 2014


    At least for higher education, there is. Baumol only shows up if you attempt to legislate them away with things like accreditation standards tied to low student:teacher ratios. Think of it like this: if you could completely automate grading, the number of lectures faculty could give would rise.

    The problem here is in the way "productivity" is defined. It's not apparent that the qualitative goals of education would be preserved, nor that "number of lectures given" or "number of students diploma'ed" is actually an appropriate measure of educational outcomes. Nor is it obvious that automated grading would produce more faculty lecturing or teaching; more likely, you'd see a reduction in the number of faculty overall, with serious hits to adjunct and non-tenured faculty who handle the large-scale gen eds. (The MOOC dream wasn't about getting more lectures out of the faculty, it was about automating the porocess of distributing recorded lectures by establiushed, senior faculty.)

    Nor would this produce much of a decline in administrative costs; the presidents and the provosts and the various people involved in managing on-campus groups and student amenities aren't going anywhere. Worse still, as long as donors want their names on things you won't see a reduction in the colossal new construction/revamping ends of most campuses. (The campuses won't shrink or go away, either, because of athletics if nothing else.) If anything, you'd see an expansion in the IT department.

    "Productivity" is an excellent example of a metric that works very well for physical production and for certain kinds of tasks that lend themselves readily to per-unit breakdowns, but is utterly awful at considering fields where workers or work products are not actually interchangeable. (Such tasks and professions certainly exist, contra the strange, sticky dreams of pro-market ideologues). But when all you have is a hammer....
    posted by kewb at 5:37 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Part of what's going on here, I think, is the same problem we see in discussions of education reform for older kids. Everyone's been to school and had teachers at varying levels of competence, so everybody sees themselves as qualified to bloviate about what makes classrooms work, despite not having the specialized training that classroom teachers get. Likewise, everyone's been parented or cared for in some manner, learned the basic tenets of socialization that early childhood education imparts, etc. So of course we don't need to pay early childhood educators real wages, because everyone can do what they do and it's not skilled labor, amirite? This of course conveniently glosses over the fact that watching multiple little kids is HARD, for reasons outlined by geegollygosh above. It's why I hate the use of the term 'babysitting' as synonymous for passively watching someone or something; actual babysitting requires all of your attention and your thought, and is in fact one of the hardest jobs I've ever done.
    posted by ActionPopulated at 5:55 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Monkeys don't require 24-7 observation to keep themselves safe, whereas a young child is probably not capable of feeding themselves without the aid of an adult.

    On the other paw, human children are significantly less able to bite your fingers off in a fit of pique.
    posted by Panjandrum at 7:42 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


    "Productivity" is an excellent example of a metric that works very well for physical production and for certain kinds of tasks that lend themselves readily to per-unit breakdowns, but is utterly awful at considering fields where workers or work products are not actually interchangeable. (Such tasks and professions certainly exist, contra the strange, sticky dreams of pro-market ideologues). But when all you have is a hammer....

    Economists typically measure productivity in terms of dollars, not units produced. It's the firms who have a harder time breaking down who is responsible for what portion of their income. In undergraduate education its pretty straightforward, compared to determining which developers at Mozilla, if any, were responsible for the increased bids for the default search engine, or which were responsible for their declining marketshare.

    Anyways, Baumol's key point is that workers do have options, and so wages must rise despite no particular technology or capital investment driving wages up. So if your argument is that infant care workers are suffering from Baumol's cost disease, the evidence is not with you here.
    posted by pwnguin at 10:45 AM on November 24, 2014


    My argument was that the price of daycare keeps increasing faster than the price of bread or the price of clothes or the price of a car because increased wages paid to the people who make bread or clothes or cars are offset by increased productivity, but increased wages paid to daycare workers are not. So maybe the people who make cars are presumably each making more than they used to (in some meaningful unit of measure), but there are fewer such people required per car these days, so I don't pay more per car.

    However, if I don't want more than four infants per caregiver, than just as many caregivers are required to watch a roomful of twelve infants now as at any time in the past. If those caregivers have the option of using their time building cars instead, then I have to pay them as much as the car-makers get paid, in order to induce them use their time watching my kids.

    So where a year's worth of daycare would've once been equivalent to, say, half the cost of a car, now it is equivalent to the whole cost of a car - because cars have gotten cheaper, in the sense of how much time and effort is required to make them, but daycare hasn't. Bread has also gotten cheaper in this sense. Clothes have also gotten cheaper in this sense.

    So the cost of daycare keeps rising relative to the cost of bread and clothes and cars.

    To the extent that people's salaries are pegged to the "cost of living" and that mostly includes stuff like bread and clothes and cars, the cost of daycare is going to keep rising relative to people's salaries.

    (I can't help wondering where this process ends up, though. Eventually robots will be making all the bread and clothes and cars and we'll all be able to have as much "stuff" as we need, but we won't be able to pay for each others' services? Think -- if you have an unlimited supply of bread, how can I offer you bread in trade for your time? If you have all the material goods you need, what can I possibly offer you for time that would have any value to you? Only my own time, I guess. You watch my kids for me, and I'll weed your lawn for you? Of course capitalism kind of breaks down in this limit, because why would the owners of the robots give us all the stuff they make for free?)
    posted by OnceUponATime at 1:44 PM on November 24, 2014


    If those caregivers have the option of using their time building cars instead, then I have to pay them as much as the car-makers get paid, in order to induce them use their time watching my kids.

    But obviously that's not what's happening. Caregiver wages have been flat or declining, but the cost of daycare is still going up. I know this is just an example, but they don't have the option of building cars instead because so many manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. I would guess that many caregivers do their job because they genuinely like kids and not because that was the only job they could get. I sure wouldn't do it even if you paid me twice what I make now.
    posted by desjardins at 1:57 PM on November 24, 2014


    Are you sure? I mean, I think labor really is the biggest part of daycare costs. I don't think most daycares make this huge profit that they just sit on. It's a pretty thin margin. Maybe part of the cost of labor is actually health care costs, and since those keep going up, labor costs are going up even if take home pay isn't? But I'd be pretty surprised if it's really true that, measured in the same units, daycare costs are rising much faster than caregiver salaries.

    But the units are a little tricky, I think. You can try to use "inflation adjusted dollars"to see how wages are changing over time, but inflation isn't really this uniform thing, right? Different costs rise at different rates. I would think that if you use a metric of "How many cars can a year's salary buy" or "how many loaves of bread can an hour's salary buy" then caregiver salaries have gone up. But if you try to measure in terms of "How much is left over after paying rent" or "How many serious health care events can this person afford " or "How many semesters of college can this salary pay for per year" then they've gone down, because in most places those costs are rising even faster.

    But that's the point -- the college professor now has to pay more of her salary for daycare, and the daycare worker now has to pay more or her salary for college.

    It's the reason nobody gets anything repaired anymore, right? Repair is intrinsically labor intensive in a way that manufacturing is not, so the cost of repair keeps going up relative to the cost of buying new. Now nobody can afford to pay someone to repair something. Pretty soon the daycare worker won't be able to afford college and the college professor won't be able to afford daycare, and then what will happen?
    posted by OnceUponATime at 6:03 PM on November 24, 2014


    Table 3 of this paper does suggest that labor is the dominant cost driver for childcare, and that home daycares, non-profit centers, and for-profit centers are not dramatically different in their costs.

    It looks like a good and relevant paper in general. It doesn't shed as much light as I'd like on the question of the FFP link (how labor compensation has changed over time, or failed to) but it does give quantitative data about why childcare costs what it does and how cost relates to quality (weakly). Profits in for-profit centers appear to be about 4.5%.
    posted by OnceUponATime at 5:39 AM on November 25, 2014


    ///Maybe part of the cost of labor is actually health care costs//

    You think daycare teachers get healthcare benefits? Can I interest you in a bridge I have for sale in Brooklyn?

    Kindercare did offer health benefits, but at $10 an hour not too many teachers can afford to be shell out $200+ a month for family coverage that still had huge deductibles.
    posted by COD at 5:44 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


    There's something missing here:

    1) Daycare costs are rising quickly. Daycare costs more than college in 31 states (subsidized, in-state college, anyway.)

    2) The largest part of daycare cost is labor cost.

    3) Wages are stagnant.

    So either we're not measuring "cost of daycare" and "value of wages" in the same units, or some part of the cost of labor other than the wages themselves is actually driving the increase. It's not really possible for profits to have driven 70% increases in price and still be only 4.5% of the total cost to parents, especially since the cost to parents of non-profit and family daycares is also rising.

    Cite for that rising cost: Average weekly child care expenses for families with working mothers who paid for child care rose more than 70% from 1985 ($87) to 2011 ($148) (in 2013 dollars.).

    That link makes the point which is the reason this topic makes me feel conflicted: on the one hand, I really want childcare workers to be payed well. On the other hand, if childcare costs are high, that often means that many women can't afford to work. (It's rarely men who feel they can't afford to work, you know.) It means going back to a 1950s world where women have little choice but to be stay at home moms (if they want to be moms at all.) The percentage of stay at home mothers has a minimum of at 23% during that period and has now risen to 29%.
    posted by OnceUponATime at 6:30 AM on November 25, 2014


    I have nothing to back this up, OnceUponATime, but I'm wondering if part of that is that the average age of a kid in daycare is different now. When I was a kid, it was pretty typical for moms to take several years off from work when their kids were really little and then go back to work when their kids went to school. When they started paying for daycare, it was afterschool daycare for a couple of hours a day. My siblings and friends have taken really short maternity leaves, and then they've been paying for full-day daycare for years until their kids start school and their daycare costs are reduced. I also wonder if there are new regulations about how many workers are required per kid.
    posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:46 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


    I hate the use of the term 'babysitting' as synonymous for passively watching someone or something...

    I can sympathize with parents who use the oldest child as a 'babysitter,' but it's completely unfair, and usually unsafe. (unless of course it's a two part family with 18-20+ year olds watching wee ones (but damn, why would you even have a 'second' family, you crazy fools!

    Also, fathers that 'babysit' their kids. It's your kid, dammit. You're not a temporary caregiver, you ass, you have just as much responsibility to take care of junior as mom does.
    posted by BlueHorse at 6:51 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


    I can sympathize with parents who use the oldest child as a 'babysitter,' but it's completely unfair, and usually unsafe. (unless of course it's a two part family with 18-20+ year olds watching wee ones

    Have norms changed on this? I started babysitting when I was in elementary school, maybe about second grade, and I remember that as being totally unexceptional at the time. (I'm not arguing that it wasn't unsafe, just that it was unremarkable; I was paid to babysit for other people's kids just a bit older, starting around fourth grade or so.)

    On the unfair part I'm totally with you. I was heartily sick of taking care of kids by the time I went to college.
    posted by Dip Flash at 7:21 PM on November 25, 2014


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