For the last 26 years, my daily routine has looked the same. I wake up at 5:30 a.m., get ready for work, make the half-hour commute, and arrive by 7:30 to greet parents who are dropping off their children for the day. I am a child care teacher, which means as parents head off to their jobs each day, my work has already started - educating and nurturing children in my child care center.
In these last two decades, I’ve watched the children I care for grow up, graduate from college, start families and lead full, happy lives. My job is quite literally to shape the next generation of our state - to mold the foundation for those who will lead us into the future.
But here’s the kicker: Despite all this, I haven’t gotten a raise in over a decade. In fact, I’ve had to take a part-time job just to get by. Each day, after the parents come to pick up their kids, I head off to my second job as a home care worker where I make just $11 an hour. My life revolves around caring for others - children and seniors - yet I can barely care for myself and keep my head above water.
There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture.
As we celebrate Labor Day this year, it’s important that we take a realistic look at the lives of millions of low wage service sector employees including teachers like myself. Politicians would like to make us think that people like me are a minority and the real work is playing out in factories and warehouses in towns across the country.
But the truth is, service jobs are quickly outpacing manufacturing and other traditional blue-collar jobs. The future of our economy and the strength of our middle class rely on jobs like mine. But politicians and corporations have rigged the system against employees by blocking minimum wage increases, access to benefits like health care, and keeping workers from the protections of a strong union.
You see, it’s not just me who hasn’t gotten a raise in 10 years; it’s every child care teacher in the state. So we’re fighting back. SEIU members and other low-wage employees in the Fight for $15 are coming together on Labor Day to demand a different kind of politics - one that champions the fight for a living wage and a voice on the job for everyone. In Connecticut, this fight is critical.
Our state has the highest level of income inequality in the country. And after nearly two months without a budget, the outlook for working families is not pretty. Funding for essential programs like child care is being slashed left and right. Care 4 Kids, the program which helps low-income families pay their child care bills, has a wait-list of nearly 5,000 families and the program is not scheduled to reopen for another two years!
The ripple effect of proposed budgets predominantly hits low-income families, workers and people of color. When parents can’t get child care, they can’t go to work. And when child care centers like mine don’t have the resources to support its workforce, our jobs are on the line. It’s a vicious and unfair cycle that must be addressed.
The child care solution in Connecticut is not simple, but it is possible. We want unions that unite parents, center directors, and child care providers to advance causes and policies that help families, raise standards and stabilize the child care workforce with good pay. Why? Children need to form strong bonds with the adults who care for them. It’s what makes us human. Children rely on us to greet them the next day. But our state leaders are letting children down by refusing to make policy decisions that help working families. Instead, they want to balance the state budget on the backs of the poor and our most vulnerable children.
I came to Connecticut from Jamaica as a young girl in search of the American Dream. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. But I’m still paying off those loans and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to live debt free. This is no longer the America where anyone can make it if they work hard enough.
It’s time to demand accountability from those politicians who want to shut down the middle class. As 2018 approaches, we have the opportunity to cast our votes for a system that works for everyone, not just the wealthy. With so much on the line, I hope you join me in fighting to keep anti-union politicians and policies out of office for good.
Ingrid Henlon is a New Britain resident and child care worker