Updated: Oct 8, 2019
Author: Elizabeth Malson, MS, MBA
Talking about money is never easy. Discussing salary and wages is vital for our industry to ensure we all make fair wages and educate families on how to legally employ childcare providers. We need to work together to advance everyone by acknowledging the complexities and realities of working in childcare.
Salary shaming oversimplifies a complex issue full of generalized terms, differing expectations, and varied skills. The entire nanny community along with the hiring families will benefit with clarified industry terms, clearly defined industry standards and aligning skills and experience to wages.
Not everyone makes $15+ an hour.
Just as vacation photos show the best parts of a trip, conversations about salary are often led by those earning higher wages. This may keep those earning less from joining the conversation.
Casual babysitter positions are often filled by teenagers in the earliest stages of a childcare career. This is important because it establishes childcare as a low skill and low wage position. It’s not uncommon for families and babysitters to land on an hourly wage less than $10 per hour for a job that requires supervisory skills only. Some families seeking nannies maintain this view while other families seek a nanny that is highly trained and able to provide value beyond supervision.
Frustration occurs on both ends of the job search when families seek a highly trained and experienced nanny but can only afford an hourly wage that is appropriate for a babysitter. Nannies also struggle when they seek a higher paying position but lack formal training and quality childcare experience.
Differentiating the skills between babysitters and professional childcare providers is not the only element that impacts wages. The availability and demand for childcare in a local community plays a significant role. In highly urban areas, there may be more nannies than jobs and this can suppress wages as a family can readily hire a replacement. In suburban or rural areas, there may be more jobs than nannies which in turn inflates the wages.
An Uncomfortable Truth.
If a nanny lacks training and the position does not require any special skills, then it’s a minimum wage position. Comparing minimum wage jobs can be confusing as minimum wage in one area such as New York or San Francisco can be vastly different from minimum wage in another area like Raleigh or Little Rock. An early career nanny in New York may earn $20 an hour while the same work earns $10 an hour in Tucson.
Nannies differ from babysitters in that they are a consistent childcare provider over a longer period of time and assist with the development of the children. Nannies may be responsible for one or more children throughout the workday while family members are at their places of employment. In addition to providing for the safety and well-being of the children, a nanny may also provide meals and activities, take them on outings and providing additional support such as transporting children to and from school, from school to clubs, sports practices, playdates, and other activities. Nannies work autonomously and may have full responsibility to care for the children overnight or when families are out of town. Many people view these tasks as unskilled while some families recognize the benefits of nanny training and view the position as skilled.
Being a nanny can be a rewarding career. If you are just starting your career or want to improve your skill set, consider taking courses focused on the responsibilities you will encounter on the job. Many nannies may have qualifications that include US Nanny Association credentials, trade school diplomas, college degrees in early childhood education, special needs, or psychology that are combined with diverse work experiences as a nanny, in daycares, teaching, or advocacy positions. Some nannies have specialized training in newborn care, music enrichment, or second languages. Nannies who are highly skilled may work for high profile or high net worth families and can find themselves extremely desirable within the nanny industry.
Employers are not the top 1%.
Nannies are no longer exclusive to the wealthy and most nannies do not earn a ‘luxury’ wage. A majority of nannies have a high school diploma with some college while top nannies have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. Wealthy families can afford to pay a premium wage and can require a degree in early childhood education or a similar field. Most nannies in the United States do not have these qualifications and instead of working for the super wealthy, they are working with higher-income or middle-income families.
As our society has evolved, people of all socio-economic classes work non-traditional hours. Whether working the night shift, traveling for work, working at home, working while going to school, or raising children on their own, parents have greater demands on their time, resulting in less time to care for children and maintain a household. This means higher-income, middle-income and lower-income families are having to pay for nannies as their jobs don’t align with standard daycare hours. These families are not seeking nannies out of luxury but out of necessity to maintain their employment and provide adequate care for their children.
A Harsh Reality.
While the US Nanny Association advocates for legal employment, most nannies are paid off the books. It’s challenging to ask a family for overtime when your salary isn’t being managed legally. Working off the books creates additional challenges for nannies who can have a difficult time establishing credit, do not qualify for unemployment and may not be covered by worker’s compensation.
Domestic Employment Laws are confusing. If a nanny finds a family trying to do the right thing, the family and the nanny may not understand the laws. Resources such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Fact Sheet #79 for Domestic Employees are available, but state law is also important. While a live-in nanny in Florida does not earn overtime based on FSLA, a New York Domestic Worker law requires live-in nannies to earn overtime after 44 hours. Wage laws on overnight childcare are also complex and depend on the job duties, total hours worked within 24 hours, and the ability to sleep without interruption for 5 hours.
In many areas, the number of job-seeking nannies surpasses the number of available jobs, so asking for a raise, time-off and other standard employment benefits can be risky. Most nannies feel the family will readily replace them if they ask for too much. Competition is real as there is often someone else willing to take the job. While it may be easy to advise a nanny to quit a low paying job or ask for a higher wage, many nannies hesitate as they need their current employment to cover their expenses.
How to Help.
In this age of social media, it’s easy to provide a quick, generic response to a question but it’s important not to oversimplify. Every nanny, every family and every child is different so we need to listen, educate, and customize our approach to elevate the childcare industry. Let’s arm each other with resources, information and recommendations that account for the job requirements, skills, and location. It’s okay to be an early career nanny with CPR and First Aid working for $10 an hour. If you are a professional nanny who earns $20+ an hour, share the training, tools, and resources with others in our community so they can learn how to manage difficult conversations, have appropriate salary expectations and plan financially when in-between jobs.