Child Care Centers as Workplaces

By Myra H. StroberSuzanne Gerlach-DownieKenneth Yeager
Feminist Economist
June182010 Vol. 1 Issue 1 Pages 93-119.

This paper deals with a subject of central interest for feminist economics: the working conditions of employees in a caregiving occupation that is low paid, female dominated and in an industry crucial for parents in the labor market. The qualitative research employed here is also of interest to feminist economics, which seeks to use a broader range of methodologies than is typically found in economics journals.The paper examines the labor market and work environment for caregivers who provide care for young children in child care centers. It is based on twenty intensive interviews with child care aides, teachers and directors in four different types of large child care centers in Santa Clara County, California. Topics discussed are pay and benefits, adequacy of staffing (induding matters of recruitment and retention), the directors’ managerial roles, the effects on the workplace of center ownership and governance, opportunities for professional development and relations with children and parents.The paper provides a model of the kinds of insights that can be had from paying attention to the words of economic actors. For example, the findings about the importance forjob satisfaction of substitute teachers, managerial styles of directors, early childhood education classes and relations with parents have not been studied or reported in other research on child care workers. The detailed descriptions of the characteristics of workers sought by child care center directors have also not been previously reported. The reproduction of the exact words of the respondents enables readers to develop an appreciation of the difficulty and stressfulness of child care workers’ jobs; this type of understanding does not emerge from quantitative work.Based on the findings, the paper calls for the funding of demonstration projects to assess the cost effectiveness of several specific policies.