One-Third of Child Care Workers in US Going Hungry Despite Labor Shortage

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In a January 21, 2022 article for The Conversation, Colin Page McGinnis, a doctoral candidate in Human Sciences at Ohio State University, shared a startling discovery he and his colleagues made in their research: 31.2 percent of child care workers in the United States experienced food insecurity, or the lack of consistent access to food. What’s more, the rate at which child care workers experience food insecurity is 8-20 percent higher than the national average. McGinnis noted that state-level surveys of food insecurity among child care workers have found even more alarming levels of hunger among employees in the field.

In 2019, a study found that 42 percent of early care and education workers (ECE) in Washington and Texas experienced food insecurity, and 20 percent experienced very high food insecurity, meaning their eating patterns were disrupted and their food intake was reduced. A separate study found that 40 percent of child care workers in Arkansas were impacted by food insecurity.

“Low wages and food insecurity may contribute to child care workers’ high stress levels,” McGinnis wrote. “When child care workers experience stress, they tend to reduce the amount of positive attention to children and increase their punitive responses to children’s challenging behavior.”

Coverage of these findings has varied. Some organizations and publications focused on education and early childhood advocacy, such as the First Five Year Fund and The Hechinger Report, which have publicized the research on their sites. Smaller news sites like Stacker have republished McGinnis’s original story.

However, coverage by the establishment press has been limited. Most articles that looked at child care workers did so in the context of the labor shortage that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These stories focused on how shortages impact parents who rely on child care services. Still, there were two exceptions to this trend. One being a January 26, 2022 Newsweek article by Emma Mayer that provided an overview of McGinnis’ original findings, provided commentary from those in the field, and looked at policies aimed at alleviating the issue. The other exception was a March 6, 2022 article in USA Today by Romina Ruiz Goiriena which included the research findings along with personal narratives from child care workers experiencing food insecurity themselves. Neither included the potentially devastating effects of food insecurity on child care workers, such as being at an increased risk for certain health conditions or high levels of stress.

Source: Colin Page McGinnis, “About 1 in 3 Child Care Workers Are Going Hungry,” The Conversation, January 21, 2022.

Student Researcher: Isa Chudzik (North Central College)

Faculty Advisor: Steve Macek (North Central College)