Fighting for a Living (Wage)

The fight for quality, accessible, affordable child care is nationwide and there are many faces behind the movement. This blog series, “Why I’m Fighting for Child Care” is an opportunity to hear from those varied individuals and the reasons they continue working towards universal child care.

Fighting for a Living (Wage): the perspective of an early childhood educator

Nancy Santos speaks to be on the phone over her break at a busy, private, Peel-Region child care centre. She’s working there for the summer as she saves money to return to school this fall. At $15 an hour (one dollar above provincial minimum wage) and no benefits, a job in her field is doing little to help pay for the cost of her college certificate in Early Childhood Education (ECE) and her Bachelor’s degree in ECE.

Although working with small children is her “dream job,” she admits that it just doesn’t pay enough, “it’s not even about making good pay at this point, it’s not even decent pay – it’s not enough to do basic things like pay down debt, save for a house or for a wedding.” Santos has decided to return to Ryerson University to complete a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Studies, with a focus on advocacy.

According to data from the Globe and Mail and CUPE, the average ECE salary in Canada is between $25,000 and $37,000 a year, despite 90% of employees having a post-secondary education.  Additionally, 98% of the sector is female and 25% say they work a second job to supplement their low income.

None of this is surprising to Santos, who says the majority of her coworkers are women, aged 20 to mid-30s. “People at the centres become over-worked because they’re under-paid and under-valued. Valuable, good teachers leave because they just can’t afford to stay.”

The Importance of Early Childhood Education

The importance of early childhood education is often overlooked, despite its established long-term impacts on the children who attend. An analysis of ECE studies over a 60-year period showed that, on average, participation in early childhood education, “leads to statistically significant reductions in special education placement and grade retention, and increases high school graduation rates.”

Santos wishes the public understood the value at ECEs bring to children and says she often encounters the misconception that she’s a babysitter, “It’s not a 9-5 job, it’s from our hearts. It’s a passion to want these children to succeed, to help provide them with the basic skills they need to go forward. Our job is to give the best care that we can.”

Universal Child Care and the Wage Gap

Working towards universal child care has been shown to close the wage gap for ECEs. “You can see the benefits it in provinces that have invested in non-profit, universal child care models,” says Morna Ballantyne, executive director of Child Care Now, “When funds go towards centres, not subsidies, everyone wins – and those wins include better ECE wages, higher rates of staff retention and an increase in staff training.”

Santos is still looking forward to teaching, but her audience is changing. Earlier this year she completed an internship with the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario (AECEO). The AECEO is a professional organization that “builds and supports a strong collective voice for early childhood educators so they can participate in and influence positive change that benefits ECEs, children, families and communities,” its primary purpose is to advocate for respect, recognition and appropriate wages and working conditions for ECEs. It’s there that Santos learned of the power of child care advocacy and the implications of what universal child care could do not only for children and families, but also for those working in the industry.

Now she’s reaching out to share her knowledge with ECE students before they enter the field. “Students become engaged in the movement and they engage others, it’s a chain reaction,” Santos says. She speaks to ECE classes about universal child care, licenced day care and the challenges facing the ECE field, “I speak to a class and at the end a student will come up, inspired and wanting to help. I’m making a change. It’s a small change, but it gives me hope for greater change.”

As for what she’s hoping to see happen in her future, she’s looking forward to school to provide a new perspective on the industry and plans to study why the field is so undervalued and why great teachers are not compensated for their skills and education the way skilled workers are in other fields. “I’d love to one day help accomplish the dream of $25 an hour compensation for the level of care we provide children, but more realistically, I’m hoping to engage people, just keep going, working with students and getting them involved in advocacy and work towards that change where ECEs can do a great job and earn a living wage.”