More Good News in Illinois

One of the most undervalued professions in this country is the child care worker, much like the underpaid and overworked teachers that educate America’s children, but usually without the same recognition for their often thankless role in children’s lives. Child care workers are in ever greater demand as fewer households have the luxury of a stay-at-home parent, and in what is fast becoming one of the nation’s most enviably progressive states, Illinois, they have finally won a decade-long struggle to join a union.

This is an important labor story, and also an important story for women, who compose the vast majority of child care providers. It’s worth noting that this is also an important story for women because, even in two-parent households, the responsibility of finding child- and or eldercare is usually a woman’s. Working alongside women who adeptly, if exhaustingly, juggle their careers, mothering, and caring for an ailing parent, has been the rule in my experience, rather than the exception. And one of their gravest concerns is locating a care provider that they trust. It’s no easy task, but once found, such dedicated people are a priceless resource, yet the turnover is such fields is incredibly high:
Childcare matters. Working parents depend on home child care providers to go to work and attend school. The quality of early care and education has a life-long impact on children’s emotional, psychological and intellectual development.

Low wages and lack of health care benefits for Illinois home-based child care providers result in up to 44% turnover among early childhood educators. The most an exempt provider can earn in a month is $615, and in a year, $7,340 before expenses. This wage level results in many leaving the child care field. Each time a child must start with a new child care provider, it negatively impacts their development in the critical years.

Children are best served under the care of a consistent provider. Extended periods of time spent in the care of the same caregiver directly correlates with increased cognitive development and school readiness.
Ultimately, making sure our care providers are well taken care of means that our children are well taken care of, too.

For a firsthand account of this long and hard-won victory in Illinois, I highly recommend reading this piece by Angenita Tanner, a Chicago childcare provider who was one of the first state home child care providers to declare her support for joining the Service Employees International Union nearly 10 years ago.

The daughter of a Local 880 Childcare Provider takes a break while accompanying her mom to lobby for raises for Providers in Springfield, Illinois.

This story was brought to my attention by Anders Schneiderman of the SEIU, who notes:
This is part of a broader fight to give the women and men who take care of our children and our grandparents—the people who make up what some have called the "economy of care"—a real voice in how our society treats them and the people they take care of.
Many of us have had a care provider, whether a relative or a family friend or a paid professional, who has left an indelible mark on us. Recently, Bitch PhD wrote a wonderful post on her “other mom,” which is a moving reminder of the effect such a person can have on our lives. Recognizing the depth and importance of what care providers do, both for us as individuals and for our society, is not only long overdue, but is, as Schneiderman suggests, a vital part of defining our nation as a place where the care of the weakest among us is a laudable pursuit.

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