Saving Washington: The case for supporting child care workers

In 300 words, community leaders offer ideas to soften the economic blow caused by coronavirus.

School supplies

Bags of school supplies for children at the Experimental Education Unit in Seattle. The school will became an emergency childcare center for healthcare workers on April 1. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute.


Gov. Jay Inslee recently declared: “Our child care workers are a crucial support system in this [pandemic] struggle. … They go to work at great risk to their health.”

Those are good words, but right now child care workers are caring for the children of essential workers while enduring poverty-level compensation and disrespect. The median wage for child care teachers is $14.23. The state provides no masks or gloves, no tests and no thermometers for child care workers.   

Our state should pay all child care workers hazard pay of half the minimum wage on top of their regular wages. Other emergency workers are paid two to eight times as much as child care workers. Hazard pay would bring child care workers’ wages up to approximately $20 an hour. All child care workers should have health coverage, and all should have protective masks and gloves, provided by the state. COVID-19 testing should be made available to them, and the state should supply thermometers to take temperatures before child care workers, kids and their parents enter a child care center or family home.  

Washington will receive $58 million in federal funds for child care in the stimulus package passed last week. That money should be used to compensate our essential child care workers. We will need more funding soon to meet these child care needs, not to mention health care. Senator Joe Nguyen has introduced a bill to tax employers for compensation which exceeds $1 million to individual employees. Nguyen’s bill could bring in $450 million, and it could start immediately. It would place a tax on about 350 firms — 0.2% of all firms — that, irresponsibly and without account, pay top executives more than $1 million a year.

Child care or more executive privilege: That’s the choice facing our state.

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About the Authors & Contributors

John Burbank

John Burbank

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute.