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Apr 23, 2023

Rights, Raises and Respect: Recognizing Worthy Wage Day

May 1 is Worthy Wage Day, and Headwaters Foundation is taking the opportunity to advocate for early educators and childcare workers. This day-of-action is designed to raise awareness of the low wages received by a vital workforce – childcare and pre-kindergarten teachers and staff, and the underfunding of early childhood programs that has been the norm for far too long.

Worthy Wage Day marks a movement started and sustained by teacher-activists. In the spring of 1992, hundreds of women (and some men) from across the county established Worthy Wage Day to raise their voices for economic justice for those who care for our country’s youngest children. Over 120 organizations in 30 different states participated; their efforts garnered national attention.

That was 21 years ago. Advocates have worked and continue to work hard for change, but early educators still are not paid what they deserve. It’s no secret that teachers are underpaid across the board, but early educators seem to pay a penalty for working with younger children. According to the Early Childhood Workforce Index, in Montana:

  • Montana early educators (with a bachelor’s degree) are paid 26.7 percent less than their colleagues in the K-8 system.
  • The median hourly wage for childcare workers was $10.84 in 2019; that’s an annual income of $21,080 before taxes. (The household income needed to afford fair-market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Montana is $36,718 annually.)
  • It’s no surprise, then, that the poverty rate for early educators in Montana is 24.7 percent, much higher than for Montana workers in general (12.7 percent) and 8 times as high as for K-8 teachers (3.1 percent).

This issue matters not just for the livelihoods and health of early educators and their families, but also for the broader community of kids and families in need of early education and care in Montana. Because of high turnover due to low wages, kids in care lack consistency (a key ingredient for early learning success), and families that need care lack access due to chronic understaffing of preschools and childcare facilities.

How do we solve this problem? It will take public investment and policies that appropriately support and compensate the early education workforce, and systems that benefit early educators and the children they care for and teach. Headwaters Foundation is committed to providing resources to improve early childhood systems in Western Montana.

In 2017, we seed-funded the Zero to Five Initiative. This network includes 7 locally-led collaboratives across Western Montana and a statewide advocacy office in Helena, that work together to give children a great start in life and a promising future.

Among the many early childhood issues that Zero to Five takes on is sustainability for childcare businesses, including fair pay for workers. Their Montana Childcare Business Connect Program helps childcare businesses start up and grow by offering mentorship, training and other resources.

We encourage you to join in making early childhood a priority in Montana, today and every day. Here are a few ways to get involved:

  • Sign up for the Zero to Five Montana newsletter and follow them on social media to learn about opportunities to participate in state and local work on this issue, including raising your voice for policy change.
  • Raise awareness. Share stats and stories with your community to raise awareness of this issue – post this blog and/or one of these images to shout about #worthywageday!
  • Last but not least, thank your childcare provider as often as you can. They deserve recognition and gratitude for the important work they do!