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National Child Care Worthy Wage Day

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

NATIONAL CHILD CARE WORTHY WAGE DAY -- (Senate - April 24, 2008)

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I strongly support a resolution by Senator Menendez supporting National Child Care Worthy Wage Day. I hope that it will shine a brighter light on the many challenges facing the early childhood education and care community and the importance of attracting and retaining excellent childcare workers.

Across the country today, nearly two-thirds of children under the age of 5 are in some form of nonparental care while their parents are at work and more and more research emphasizes that learning begins at birth. The quality of early care that children receive has a profound impact on the rest of their lives.

Children in high-quality early care and education programs are 30 percent more likely to graduate from high school and twice as likely to go to college. They are also 40 percent less likely to be held back a grade or need expensive special education programs.

Childcare is particularly effective for at-risk students. Important studies, including the research of both Nobel Laureate Economist James Heckman and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, show that quality early care and education can break the cycle of poverty and crime. Heckman's survey of at-risk boys who receive quality early education found that less than 10 percent of boys who participate will be convicted of a crime and less than 2 percent will end up on welfare--rates significantly lower than for those who do not receive such support.

The key to assuring quality early childhood education and care for our youth is access to a highly qualified educator or caregiver. Despite the obvious importance of their work, however, child care providers are underpaid, unsupported and undervalued.

These providers are responsible for the social, emotional and mental development of the children in their care. They teach skills that young children need in order to be ready to read and learn when they go to school. They help young children learn about the world around them and how to interact with others. Yet the average salary of an early care and education workers is $18,820, and less than a third of them have health insurance.

In Massachusetts, those numbers are only marginally better--childcare workers are paid a little over $10 an hour and earn $22,760 annually. By comparison, registered nurses make $37,511 a year, police officers earn $37,078, and K through 12 teachers earn $32,306.

The story of Melvina Vandross is typical. She has spent the last 20 years caring for children in poor families in New York City. Due to the lack of sufficient Federal subsidies, she makes less than $19,000 a year in one of the world's most expensive cities. She has no health insurance, and could not afford to get her son the tutor he needed to succeed in school. Her commitment to the futures of some of the Nation's least fortunate children has made it nearly impossible for her to provide for herself and her family.

Melvina's story is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that Head Start teachers in Montana qualify for Habitat for Humanity homes. The men and women who shape the lives of our Nation's children deserve fair wages and benefits. The sacrifice we are asking of them for their indispensible work is too high.

Inadequate wages and benefits have made it difficult to recruit and retain qualified childcare providers. Turnover rates are going through the roof. Almost 30 percent of child care providers leave the field every year. Neither their wages nor their turnaround rates are acceptable. If we want our children to be cared for by qualified providers who have a good education and sound understanding of child development, we must see that they are fairly compensated and supported, commensurate with their contribution to our national, civic and economic well-being. They are indeed deserving of a worthy wage for their worthy work that is so important for the Nation's future. I urge my colleagues to support this important resolution. We owe it to the Nation's childcare providers, and we owe it to our Nation's children and their families.

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