Commentary, COVID-19, NC Budget and Tax Center

COVID-19 provides clarity around what it takes for NC workers to make ends meet

My colleague Patrick McHugh released a brief yesterday on the checks being sent to households across the country as part of the federal CARES Act and how it’s insufficient on its own to stabilize households and the economy.

At the state level yesterday, North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services announced that early childcare workers, who are now deemed essential to the fight against COVID-19, will receive $300 each month in bonus pay ($200 if working at a childcare center but not a teacher) for the next two months.

The decision to award these additional dollars in recognition of the risks of working during this pandemic, often without personal protective equipment, is certainly welcome news. However, it will be far from sufficient to protect childcare workers from hardship. Childcare workers across the state are woefully underpaid, earning on average just $10.50 an hour and often without health insurance.

For those workers, an additional $300 for the next two months won’t be sufficient to move them to within the living income standard for one adult and one child. It falls short of meeting that market-based estimate of what it takes to make ends meet for that family size by more than $1,300. Even proposals being put forward by early childhood advocates to pay these workers time-and-a-half will far short of the $3,200 needed each month just to get by.

Across nearly all levels of the policy response, there must be greater consideration of what it actually takes to make ends meet and a more systemic set of solutions proposed.

As our leaders pursue emergency measures in the face of COVID-19, it would be a mistake not to address the underlying issues facing the state’s childcare system and particularly the low wages earned by those doing the essential work of caring for and supporting the healthy development of our state’s youngest children.

Alexandra Sirota is the Director of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.

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