In 2021, the child care system in New Brunswick should not be a deterrent to starting a family. Nor should it be a barrier to mothers returning to the workforce, or a factor for early childhood educators to seek better paying jobs.
April 2020, the federal government announced plans to invest $30 billion over five years in Early Learning and Child Care, including Indigenous children. It plans to reduce child care costs by 50 per cent by 2022, averaging $10 per day by 2025-2026.
New Brunswick has shown interest in building a better child care system in the past, but has been lagging in negotiating an agreement with the federal government.
If government wants to provide high-quality child care services, it is not enough to offer conditional subsidies. Quality care hinges on the recruitment and retention of qualified educators; who are currently undervalued and underpaid.
In 2019-2020, a total of 1,520 early childhood educators left their positions, accounting for 27.8 per cent of the workforce. At an average wage of around $18.75 per hour for those with training, they are still far from achieving pay equity.
In 2012, economist Ruth Rose determined a fair wage would be $19.97 per hour, which would be significantly higher today, given the evolving nature of the profession, such as higher educational requirements, and the rising cost of living over the past decade.
Because the system is under-resourced, the weight of employee wages falls largely on parents. Fair wages subsidized by the government would not only attract and retain qualified educators within the sector, but would also encourage new people to obtain training in the field. We need to ensure that those who care for our children are paid a living wage.
At present, the participation rate of women in the labour market in New Brunswick stands at 57.9 per cent; the second lowest in the country. With nearly 120,000 jobs expected to be filled over the next 10 years, it is in the province’s best interest to maximize the participation of half of its population, namely women. This will stimulate the economy, reduce the demand for social assistance programs and contribute to increased tax revenues.
According to a 2017 study, provincial GDP could have risen by 3 to 4 per cent between 2016 and 2026 if women’s participation in the workforce had increased. Studies show for every dollar spent on early childhood education, the broader economy reaps between $1.50 and $2.80.
In 2020, the median monthly cost of infant care varied up to $868/month depending on the region of New Brunswick. The reduction of fees to $10/day, envisioned by the federal government, would save New Brunswick parents up to $7,816 per child annually.
We have a unique opportunity to establish a universal child care system.
This is an opportunity for New Brunswick to lead a transformative moment; let’s not miss it.
Chair of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity