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NJ child care worker salaries lagging behind preschool, kindergarten teachers

A recent study at the University of California, Berkeley ranked New Jersey sixth among all states in the median hourly wages of both preschool and kindergarten teachers, but 13th for the child care workers who look after kids younger than school age.

Kids having fun on slide
Anna BizoÃ, ThinkStock

Yet that apparent disparity can be somewhat misleading, since it takes the entire state into account as a whole, said Curt Macysyn, executive director of the New Jersey Child Care Association. Macysyn said the market value of child care is ultimately relative to where you live in New Jersey.

“What a cost might be in Cumberland County is certainly different than what a cost might be in Bergen County,” he said. He also pointed out that public preschool and kindergarten teachers, while they are paid more, usually have pension and benefits packages attached to their salaries that drive up property taxes for all.

And to further complicate things, Macysyn said many of the areas of New Jersey formerly known as Abbott districts coordinate their child care operation through the local school system.

“It might be a public-private partnership, but it is run by the public school system,” he said.

But that raises another point: Macysyn believes child care worker salaries lag behind because some of these workers are part-timers — prior public school employees who enjoy the flexibility of teaching in a private program, people using a child care center as a second or supplementary job, or retirees pursuing a second career in early childhood education.

According to Macysyn, many workers also receive reduced-rate or free child care for their own children.

For the nearly 4,000 privately licensed child care centers across the state, new government mandates that come along can prove costly in ways that the publicly-connected facilities may not see, and may impact the money available to pay employees.

“The cost of those mandates (is) borne by the center itself,” Macysyn said, “and then ultimately, like any business, that’s going to be reflected in the tuition cost.”

He said New Jersey can take solace in the fact that its salaries still rank above the national average. Child care workers are paid an average of $10.61 per hour, preschool teachers $16.90, and kindergarten teachers $29.50 in the Garden State.

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Patrick Lavery anchors and produces newscasts across all dayparts for New Jersey 101.5. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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