They have a prominent champion in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York and the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
fund for states to use to increase compensation, benefits, education and training for child care workers.
Supporters hope to attach the bill to other legislation. But even if it doesn’t move far in the legislative process before the end of 2008, it lays a foundation for what may be done in 2009, especially if Democrats maintain control of Congress and Clinton is elected.
At a Capitol Hill event, she emphasized the importance of strengthening the workforce that plays a critical role in the lives of children during their formative years.
“Let’s provide the resources we need to attract and keep people in the field … and give our kids the best start,” Clinton says.
The issue ties into Democratic efforts during the past year to appeal to families who make less than $100,000 annually and are buffeted by the increasing cost of living and the stress of economic competition.
“It is time to put middle-class families center stage,” DeLauro says. “This is about investing in the future of our country, in our workforce and in our children.”
The people who work with children day to day, however, make on average about $19,000 and have few benefits like paid sick days, DeLauro says.
It’s not just child care personnel who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. They are joined by those who work with drug and alcohol addicts, the homeless and the mentally ill.
These highly educated professionals also have trouble supporting themselves, says Elizabeth Franklin, an official with the National Association of Social Workers in Washington.
The median salary for someone with a master’s degree in social work and two to four years’ experience is $35,600. They also are often carrying big student loans.
To address the problem, the association has launched the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative, which is designed to improve recruiting, retention and training in the field through federal and state investments.
“Social workers think that it is selfish to advocate on behalf of themselves,” says Franklin, who manages the project. “We want to help vulnerable populations and be able to pay the rent at the end of the month.”
One of the reasons Franklin is trying to recruit more people to the field is that 7 percent of licensed social workers plan to retire in the next two years, leaving fewer people to care for the growing elderly population.
“We have a severe shortage of gerontologically competent practitioners,” Franklin says.
But the demand probably won’t lead to increased salaries.
“The market doesn’t work in terms of compensating providers,” says Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center.