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Child care is a crisis screaming out for investment. Can Manchin and Sinema hear that?

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Interview with Laura Clawson, Daily Kos Contributing Editor | Smart  Bitches, Trashy Books

Affordable, available child care was a major problem for many U.S. families even before the coronavirus pandemic—and now it’s a crisis. President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats have plans to fix that if Senate Republicans will get out of the way, or Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will get on board with a budget reconciliation package that includes child care. But even if funding was passed into law tomorrow (which it won’t be), the child care crisis would persist, at least for a while. 

The U.S. child care system has so many problems that simply scaling it up would take time as well as money. Scaling up requires adding both facilities and workers, and both of those are challenging. In Portland, Oregon, for instance, child care providers told local news station KOIN about their difficulties setting up new facilities, from finding appropriate spaces to zoning and permitting to finding the funding to pay for renovations. 

“It gets costly to borrow, you know, and childcare—there’s a fine line in what you can charge and what makes you competitive in the marketplace for families who do need childcare and how much you can ultimately profit to pay off a loan,” said one provider who had already spent $200,000, with the help of grants, renovating a space to set up a new facility.

Then there are child care workers. This was already a high-turnover industry, thanks in part to low wages. A Biden administration fact sheet on the American Families Plan lays out the gruesome situation for these workers: “More investment is needed to support early childhood care providers and educators, more than nine in ten of whom are women and more than four in ten of whom are women of color. They are  among the most underpaid workers in the country and nearly half receive public income support programs. The typical child care worker earned $12.24 per hour in 2020—while receiving few, if any, benefits, leading to high turnover and lower quality of care.”

The Biden plan would pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour for child care workers, as well as supporting professional development and training. At the same time, subsidies to families would ensure that “families earning 1.5 times their state median income will pay no more than 7 percent of their income for all children under age five,” while care would be free for the lowest-income families. 

But, again, such a dramatic increase in capacity would take time to put into place, and we’ve been seeing how slowly funds can make their way to the people who need them: Emergency rental assistance, for example, has gone out at a glacial pace in many states, even with an eviction crisis looming.

”We estimate hundreds of thousands of new children will benefit … in the first year, and even more children will start to immediately benefit from increased quality and access,” a White House official told Politico, “by providing funds to states to build on their existing child care systems in a way that is tailored to the needs of communities in the state and provides parents with options to send children to the setting of their choice.”

Hundreds of thousands is good—but millions of children were without affordable, accessible child care prior to the pandemic, and the situation has only gotten worse.

The fact that Congress can’t just snap its fingers and create a whole new, wonderful U.S. child care infrastructure isn’t the reason to start working on it, though. It’s a reason to start working on it now, with major funding directed at the problem that’s become a crisis. The pandemic has showed us how critical child care is to the ability of parents to do their jobs. Too many women have dropped out of the paid workforce or scaled back their paid work to take care of their children, and if we want to reverse that rather than let women’s progress be set back by decades, this is a massively important intervention. Raising wages for workers—overwhelmingly women and very often women of color—doing an important job should also be a priority, and it’s one that would benefit children by reducing turnover of their caregivers. Funding child care is a key economic, educational, and moral intervention. Manchin and Sinema need to embrace it.

This post originally appeared at DailyKos on August 4, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.


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How Coronavirus Exposed the Flaws of the Childcare Economy

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The U.S. government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that childcare workers in the nation have a median salary of just over $24,000 a year—below the poverty line for a family of four. The segment of our nation’s workforce that attends to the basic needs of our children is shockingly underpaid, and now during the coronavirus pandemic, left even farther behind as childcare centers are forced to downsize or close. At the same time, billionaires have minted money during our time of national crisis. The fortunes of the wealthiest have increased by a quarter over the past several months, proving once more that the economy is rigged to benefit the already-rich.

It is no coincidence that an industry dominated by women, particularly women of color (40 percent of childcare workers are women of color—twice their population representation) is in dire straits. The vast majority of childcare workers do not have health insurance. Many are self-employed and, even before the pandemic, operated on razor-thin margins to stay financially afloat. While the cost of operating a childcare center is fixed, children age out quickly, making revenues extremely unstable. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The businesses have little in the way of collateral. Banks are rarely interested in lending to them, beyond costly credit cards, making it difficult to ride out rough patches.”

In other words, childcare is not a lucrative business in spite of its crucial nature, and while the cost of childcare for parents is often far too high, the cost of operating even a bare-bones childcare business is also too high.

Once the pandemic hit, many childcare providers simply lost clients as lockdowns required families to remain at home. According to one survey conducted in April 2020, “60% of programs [were] fully closed and not providing care to any children” at that time. While some workplaces were able to transition to remote environments, by its nature, childcare work was not able to adapt to this “new normal.” While many workers like grocery store employees, nurses, and delivery drivers were deemed “essential” to society and continued working, they needed care for their out-of-school children. Suddenly American women providing childcare found themselves out of work, while women in other industries had no access to the care their children required.

Millions of parents, mostly mothers, have already left the workforce to care for their children during the pandemic. The U.S. Census Bureau in August 2020 found that nearly 20 percent of “working-age adults said the reason they were not working was because COVID-19 disrupted their childcare arrangements.” Additionally, “women ages 25-44 [were] almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands.”

Melissa Boteach of the National Women’s Law Center told Politico, “the parents who are not going to be able to go back to work or who are going to have to give up their careers or jobs for less pay—because they can’t find the child care to cover the hours that they need—are disproportionately going to be women and women of color.” In other words, women of color are disproportionately impacted on both ends of the childcare equation—both as providers and as customers who rely on these services.

As I prepared for an interview with Wendoly Marte, director of economic justice at Community Change Action, about the crisis of childcare, I fielded texts from my seven-year-old son who could not find an extension cord for the tablet that he uses for school. My child was in the room next to the home-studio that I work out of and knows never to disturb me during interviews. But he was desperate to turn his device on so he wouldn’t miss his next lesson. I found myself for the umpteenth time wishing I didn’t have to work so I could be more present for my children during a time of deep uncertainty. But I also remembered how much I loved my job and continued to speak with Marte, who explained that I was not alone. “I think a lot of parents have had to make really hard choices over the last few months as they tried to balance working from home and caring for their children,” said Marte, who helps to organize childcare workers and amplify their voices in government.

Like millions of American women, I find myself constantly worrying about the state of my children’s mental health during the pandemic. Isolated from their peers and forced to learn through screens and Zoom chats, they are coping as best as they can. I am terrified of the long-term impacts on them and yet unable to leave a job on which my family depends to help pay the mortgage and purchase necessities, and at the same time resenting the fact that I have to even consider leaving a job that I love and that I have invested years of my life in.

The pandemic has highlighted, in Marte’s words, the need for “a system that is truly universal and equitable and that takes into account the perspective of parents, the children, and the childcare providers.” She articulated that “we’re going to need a serious public investment in a bold solution that actually matches the scale of the crisis.”

There was a crisis in childcare even before the pandemic. More than a year ago, the Center for American Progress explained that “Whether due to high cost, limited availability, or inconvenient program hours, child care challenges are driving parents out of the workforce at an alarming rate,” and that, “in 2016 alone, an estimated 2 million parents made career sacrifices due to problems with child care.” Add to that a public health crisis that has no end in sight, and the U.S.’s childcare industry could collapse entirely under the weight of multiple pressures.

While the federal government made available small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program earlier this year, the Bipartisan Policy Center concluded that the program did not work for childcare businesses and only about half of applicants ever received the government-backed loans. While the federal government’s “Childcare and Development Fund” provides some measure of support through block grants, according to Marte it is not nearly enough and “the money ran out very quickly.”

In late July, House Democrats passed the Childcare Is Essential Act, which Marte’s group has supported. The bill creates a $50 billion fund to buttress the reeling industry. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made clear that he is far more interested in remaking the judicial system to benefit conservatives than ushering in financial aid bills for ordinary Americans.

President Donald Trump and his allies have expressed an eagerness to return to normal that is not couched in reality as a third wave of coronavirus infections threatens to derail the economy once more. Without direct federal government intervention to save the childcare industry, the future is frighteningly precarious for women, and especially women of color.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has shrewdly outlined a plan for what his campaign calls a “caregiving economy,” promising to “[e]nsure access to high-quality, affordable child care and offer universal preschool to three-and four-year olds through greater investment, expanded tax credits, and sliding-scale subsidies.” The ambitious $775 billion plan is a start, and Biden will need to be held to his promises if he wins the White House.

When the coronavirus upended the economy, the crisis of childcare that had been brewing for years exploded and revealed the truly barbaric nature of a society that leaves human needs to the whims of “market forces.” There is no better symbol of a society’s future potential than the well-being of its children, and judging by that, we are in deep trouble.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.


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How to Remain Professional Whilst Caring for Children at Home?

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As a parent of the three children, all of which are under 11, the dramatic shift to remote working from home for students and professionals alike has been a sudden and challenging shake up to the daily routine.

The million-dollar question for all parents who now find themselves acting as a full time parent and professional has become ‘how do I juggle my commitments?’. The shift of focus has been from trying to decide whether we are dressed appropriately for a video call to ‘mummy, can you help me with…’.

So, how do you remain professional and working efficiently whilst your responsibilities are pulling you in a number of different directions? I’ve complied a list of some methods that I have found to be useful:

Regardless of how structured you are, some form of timetable will be necessary

Whether this is as detailed as an implementation plan from work, with activity, who, when, resources required and challenges, or whether you find a more relaxed approach works for your family, with simply a range of suggested activities, with breaks and lunch interspersed; some structure will be needed to allow you to prepare for the challenges that each day will bring.

Arrange your calls and their activities accordingly  

Be honest with your boss, explain that you are having to juggle more than normal now; in the main they will understand and if a regular call must be moved back by half an hour, so be it.  Consider how long a call is going to last? To avoid interruption, what activity will take them through this period?

Make a to do list 

I love a list and generally have one on the go to just get by, however in times like this maybe a more sophisticated, prioritised list is required.  What is urgent and what is a nice to do, be realistic about what you can achieve. Are there time robbers cropping up which can be put on hold whilst you get through the next few weeks.  Do not let yourself get distracted with easier things to do like laundry, and although for most of us, there will be a reliance on technology in our work, try to avoid social media during the day, or set yourself some specific time for a social media catch up. 

When preparing for your day, anticipate demands 

If you have suggested colouring as an activity, ensure you provide paper and pens, so you don’t get interrupted with requests for these. Unfortunately, if your children are like mine, no they can’t find them themselves!  If you suggest screen time, make sure batteries are charged.  Don’t beat yourself up about encouraging screen time, you won’t be alone. If you have a longer call and you know there will be demands for food, have something suitable prepared that you can give them.

Balance your time

Accept that you are going to struggle to do six back-to-back calls from 9am til 4pm, you aren’t superhuman, and you do have your parenting role which will also require your attention.  Explain to the children that you are needing to balance your time, however, factor in some time with them so they have something to look forward to.    

Stick to a daily routine

Although this sounds funny, I have found that sticking to the daily non-work routine of getting dressed, ensuring we stick to breakfast/lunch/dinner and also sticking to bedtime routines, as much as possible, has maintained some normality and without this it is easy to fall into the ‘what day is it trap?’.

Define your workspace

Depending on what space you have, try and define yourself a quiet place to work and explain to the children that this is the working or quiet area.  I’ve found myself referring to my office as the staff room, a room they are used to not entering!

Be flexible with your working hours

You may find it easier to flex your working day so starting early or working into the evening if the children are younger and likely to be tucked up in bed by 7pm.  Again, be honest with your company and speak to them about this idea. If you partner is also working from home some sort of rota may work for you if the children are of an age that need supervision. Are you able to organise your important calls at different times?

Remember, you aren’t on your own

You aren’t on your own in this weird time.  Many of your colleagues, student peers, and tutors are also having to change working practices.  Utilise forums/discussion groups/networking groups to retain some level of sanity.  Talking about issues, sharing frustrations often makes it all more manageable.

If nothing else works, try bribery!

Introduce some sort of reward chart if your children are still interested in stickers or for older children, barter in time, if they allow you some quiet time to make that important call, then they can have extra screen time! 

I am sure throughout the coming weeks you will find your own tips and tricks for maintain a balance that suits you and your family.  It’s a culture change for everyone, and just like changing the culture in your organisation, this isn’t going to happen overnight, there will be bumps in the road. Remember one of the main rules about changing a culture is taking everyone with you.  If everyone is still happy, I would say you are winning.

This blog originally appeared at MOL on April 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jane Hawksworth is Associate Tutor at MOL, her HR career spanned 14 years across a range of industries, and she has worked for MOL since 2009 whilst raising her family, and has tutored on a number of level 7 programmes.


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Childcare costs are sucking U.S. parents dry and still leaving early childhood teachers in poverty

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Parents in the U.S. pay a staggering amount for care for their young children—and here, as in so many other areas, the support they get from their government falls short of what peer nations provide. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows just how big the problem is, and what it’s costing the economy.

With government spending predictably lagging other countries (as a share of GDP), parents spend $42 billion a year on early care and education. It’s so expensive that many parents leave the paid workforce or scale back their hours, losing $30-35 billion in the process.

Meanwhile, the patchwork early care and education system leaves many teachers wildly underpaid, with a median of $25,218 a year in salry. Almost one in five live in poverty. The teacher at a preschool makes dramatically less than the kindergarten teacher who gets the same kids a year later.

Several of the Democrats running for president have proposed major overhauls of this broken system: universal childcare was one of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s first policy plans, Sen. Bernie Sanders has endorsed universal childcare in broader strokes, and Pete Buttigieg has an ambitious plan as well.

Check out the details of early care and education funding for your state.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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I Work with Mark Janus. Here’s How He Benefits from a Strong Union.

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Like everyone else in the labor movement, I’m nervously awaiting the Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which would weaken public sector unions by letting workers receive the benefits of representation without contributing toward the cost.

But I’ve got a unique vantage point: I work in the same building as the plaintiff, Mark Janus.

We’re both child support specialists for the state of Illinois, where we do accounting on child support cases. I do this work because it’s fulfilling to help kids and single parents get the resources they need to support themselves.

What convinced Mr. Janus to join this destructive lawsuit? Your guess is as good as mine. I do know it’s much bigger than him. He’s the public face, but this case is backed by a network of billionaires and corporate front groups like the National Right-to-Work Foundation.

But the truth is, even Mark Janus himself benefits from union representation. Here are a few of the ways:

1. Without our union, Mr. Janus’s job would probably have been outsourced by now.

A drastic provision in the state’s “last, best, and final offer” in 2016 would have given Governor Rauner the right to outsource and privatize state employees’ jobs without accountability. Our union is all that’s preventing critical public services from being privatized.

Our agency would be at particular risk, because Illinois already has a longstanding contract with a scandal-ridden, for-profit corporation called Maximus to perform some of our agency’s functions. They modify child support orders and interact with employers about income withholding—pretty simple tasks, yet state employees regularly have to correct their work. If they were to take over more complex tasks, we can imagine how badly that would go! Their concern is for profit, not kids.

If the governor could get away with it, it’s very likely he would expand the Maximus contract to privatize jobs like mine and Mr. Janus’s. He already did something similar to nurses in the prison system. But our union has to be consulted before the state can outsource anything. And when they do outsource, we monitor the contract and discuss how long it will continue. I go to those meetings for our union. Right now, instead of letting management expand its deal with Maximus, we’ve been pressing to cut that contract.

2. Mr. Janus has received $17,000 in union-negotiated raises.

Over his years working for the state, Mr. Janus has earned general wage increases and steps that would not have been guaranteed if not for the union.

3. The public—including the parents and kids Mr. Janus serves—has access to resources like childcare that our union has fought to defend.

Our union allows us speak up together on matters far beyond money. When Governor Rauner tried to cut childcare benefits for low-income single parents, we teamed up with outraged community members and made him back off. And when the budget impasse was forcing domestic violence shelters to close their doors, we kept pushing for years until a veto-proof budget was passed.

4. Our union blocked the employer from doubling the cost of Mr. Janus’s health benefits.

 

In negotiations the state has pushed to double our health insurance costs and drastically reduce coverage. The employer declared impasse and walked away from the bargaining table. AFSCME took the matter to the Labor Relations Board and the courts—securing a temporary restraining order that prevents the governor from imposing his extreme demands.

5. We make sure Mr. Janus’s office is warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

As a union we deal with health safety issues large and small. In the department that rescues children from household abuse and neglect, we’re continually pushing for sufficient staffing. The stakes are high: one member was killed on the job after she went out on an urgent call alone.

Other matters are less dramatic. In state office buildings we solve problems like flooding, mold, leaky windows, and toxic pigeon feces. One building had someone creeping up on employees in the parking lot, so we worked with management to get better lighting and security patrols.

In the building where Mr. Janus and I work, the heating and cooling system is extremely old. Twice a year they bring in a computer from 1982 to switch from heat to air conditioning for the summer, and vice versa for the winter. So when the weather fluctuates, we work to get portable heating or cooling units deployed where they’re needed.

Many of these are ongoing issues, where our union acts as a watchdog. We have a health and safety chair on the union executive board. Any time a problem comes up, he starts by approaching management to resolve it. If that doesn’t work, he can file an OSHA complaint plus a high-level grievance.

6. Thanks to our union, Mr. Janus will retire with a pension.

Our union has fought to save the defined-pension that Mr. Janus will receive upon retirement. A coalition of unions including AFSCME took the issue to court—and won. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that employees’ pension benefits cannot be cut.

7. Mr. Janus can get sick and still have a job when he comes back.

Before this job I worked without a union, in the retail industry, where I experienced what it means to be an at-will employee. Three absences would cost an employee their job—even if they called in sick and provided a doctor’s note.

8. Our union ensured that Mr. Janus could be fairly hired, regardless of his politics.

In public service our ultimate bosses are elected officials. There was a time in Illinois when to be hired or promoted, you were expected to make a contribution to the political party in power. But a 1990 Supreme Court case called Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois put an end to that. Today our union enforces a triple-blind system for fair treatment in hiring and promotions, making sure seniority is followed. It’s one more way that even Mr. Janus benefits from having a union on the job.

This blog was originally published at Labor Notes and In These Times. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Donnie Killen is a child support specialist for the state of Illinois and vice president/executive steward of AFSCME Local 2600.


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Childcare Workers Need a Living Wage

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seiuWhen a group of young fast food workers decided to lift their voices on the job and join together in the demand for better wages, no one believed anything tangible would come from it. Two months ago, those same workers won $15/hr.

Their action and bravery sparked a global movement known as the Fight for 15, and as a childcare worker who cares for other children while barely making enough to care for myself, I am proud to be in the Fight For 15. We deserve to be able to take care of our families just as well as we take care of the children in the classroom.

Enough is enough.

Nearly half of all workers across the country make less than $15 an hour – workers in fast food, home care, child care, airports and universities. We are uniting with low wage workers throughout the country because poverty wages must end.

We are in the streets because the cost of living continues to increase while wages remain stagnant. About one in seven childcare workers lives below the official poverty line. In many regions, preschool and childcare workers earn a fraction of what’s required for a minimally decent standard of living.

I have raised four great kids as a childcare worker by picking and choosing which bills to pay. I have over 15 years of experience and still only earn $8.50 an hour. One day I would like to move up and lead my own classroom but that’s not possible with my CDA (Child Development Associate Credential. There is no room for the expense of additional classes in my tight budget.

11 million Americans have won raises since the first fast food strike. We are winning because we are united in the fight for a society we want: one where we can give our families a good life, support our communities, and leave a more safe and stable world for future generations. I am all in on this fight and you should be too.

This article was originally printed on SEIU in November, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.


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Can Au Pairs Legally Be Paid Less Than $5 An Hour?

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Bryce CovertBeaudette Deetlefs, who goes by Bella, thought being an au pair in the United States would be a great opportunity. The agency she applied to told her she’d travel with her host family on vacation, earn enough to put money into savings, and be treated like a member of the family.

But the when she arrived in Salt Lake City from her home country of South Africa, the reality turned out to be completely different. “What the company told us before we came here, and what actually happened when we got to America, was two different things,” she said. She says her host family wasn’t comfortable her living in the house, which made things tense, and wouldn’t take her on vacation. Sometimes she would be left behind with no food, and the pay was meager.

“The way [the agency] presented it is you can save money,” she said. “It’s not possible with a family that wants you to pay for everything … The pay we get is not enough to save and do stuff with.”

Federal regulations say the J-1 Visa Program, which governs au pairs, must comply with American minimum wage laws. A State Department pamphlet says as much. But a lawsuit Deetlefs and other au pairs have filed alleges that the 15 agencies in the U.S. illegally paid less than minimum wage. Agencies require host families to pay a minimum stipend of $195.75 a week, and because au pairs put in 45-hour weeks, the hourly wage comes to just $4.35. The agencies say that these wages comply with the guidelines set by the Department of Labor and the State Department.

“The State Department has regulations that are specific to au pairs, not even just the J-1 program,” said Matthew L. Schwartz, a lawyer from Boies, Schiller & Flexner working on the case. “They say explicitly that the sponsors are in charge of ensuring that au pairs are paid in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act [FLSA],” the law that requires all American workers to be paid minimum wage and overtime.

Go Au Pair President Bill Kapler, one of the agencies named in the lawsuit, said his company simply complies with guidelines sent to it by the government when it tells families that the minimum weekly payment is $195.75. “We truly believe it’s what we’ve been told to do,” he said. “If the Department of Labor comes back and says, ‘We’ve changed some rules,’ we’ll follow whatever the rules are.” He pointed out the program “is not meant to be a labor thing at all,” but is run by the State Department to further foreign relations goals. Many other agencies named in the lawsuit declined to comment.

At the heart of the issue may be whether or not the host families can deduct the cost of room and board from what they pay. The complaint filed on behalf of the au pairs claims that families can’t deduct the costs of food and lodging against the minimum wage given that the program requires them to provide those things. But a 2007 letter from the State Department sent to the agencies and shared with ThinkProgress, indicates they may deduct 40 percent of an au pair’s compensation as the room and board credit, thus bringing their weekly stipend for 45 hours a week to $195.75 under the federal $7.25 an hour minimum wage.

Schwartz said that State Department has since withdrawn that notice and instead clarified that au pairs have to be paid in accordance with minimum wage laws. “We believe that the State Department pulled down the June 2007 notice because they realized it was erroneous once Towards Justice filed this suit,” he said. “We’re very confident in our view of the law.”

Either way, the deductions still wouldn’t account for higher state minimum wages, which the lawyers for the au pairs argue agencies would have to comply with. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have higher wage floors than the federal government does.

The lawsuit also argues that the agencies engaged in anti-trust behavior by conspiring to keep wages so low and in false advertising by making promises to the au pairs that didn’t turn out to be true for many of them. Kapler of Go Au Pair denied that the agencies coordinated on wages or that it made any promises in its advertising beyond “the facts and the rules.”

The complaint brought by Boies, Schiller & Flexner, the nonprofit Towards Justice, and the au pairs argues that the program has been plagued by low wages from the beginning. Started in 1986, sponsors paid just $100 a week for 45 hours of work. This caught the attention of the General Accounting Office in 1990, which issued a report saying that the au pair program was a “full-time child care work” program and the au pairs had to be treated as full-time employees. Later clarifications made it clear they had to be paid according to American wage and hour laws.

The low wages fit into the larger child care picture in the United States, in which care is expensive but also doesn’t pay workers very much. “It’s one more signal that the child care system is broken,” said Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center.

The current situation doesn’t work for anyone. “It’s broken on both sides,” Blank pointed out. “Parents are really struggling to pay for child care … then the people who are paid for child care don’t get paid enough, don’t get benefits, and don’t get treated well.”

Median pay for U.S. residents who provide child care is just $9.38 an hour, more than what au pairs can expect but on par with fast food employees, bar tenders, and parking lot attendants and less than people who care for animals in zoos or homes. Their pay increased just 1 percent between 1997 and 2013 — barely keeping up with the rising cost of living. At the same time, however, the cost of care for an infant can reach as much as $16,500 a year, on average, and eats up a bigger portion of families’ budgets than food, rent, or, in many states, public college tuition.

So au pairs can be “a solution for families,” Blank noted. The complaint itself notes that “the sponsors extract premiums from families seeking affordable childcare with the sales pitch that even with significant sponsor fees, au pairs are significantly cheaper than other childcare options available in the United States.” In many cases, this is likely true.

Even if the au pairs prevail in their lawsuit against the agencies, it won’t fix this broken system. But Deetlefs hopes it changes things for people brought over to care for American children. She herself was fired from her position when she got involved in the lawsuit and is currently back home in South Africa. But she says it’s not about her. “The whole purpose for me is to make it better for the au pairs that come after us,” she said. “We already had a bad experience and I wish to spare them that.”

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on July 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.


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