Care for Kids, Care for the Community: Employment in Early Care and Education in Rural, Southwest Pennsylvania

Early care and education is a critical investment for the healthy growth, economic sustainability, and future wellbeing and vitality of Appalachian communities because it can have immediate and long-term effects both on the population directly affected by the care, and for the community at large. Childcare is a crucial investment for families, particularly when children have not yet reached kindergarten and still require full-day care. Across the United States, approximately 11 million children under age 5 spend time in childcare while their parents are at work. These children spend an average of 36 hours a week in childcare.

While many studies have addressed issues of affordability, accessibility and quality of childcare from the perspective of parents seeking care for their children, this research seeks to understand care work as an occupation. Approximately 2 million people are employed as paid childcare providers in the United States, and far more participate in informal or unpaid care arrangements. In rural communities, care work can serve as an important avenue for female employment, both as an occupation and as a support to women’s participation in other parts of the local economy.

This research is based on 20 in-depth qualitative interviews with childcare providers in two counties in rural, southwest Pennsylvania. Care workers in centers, group care facilities, and home-based providers are included in the study. This presentation will outline findings from interviews with childcare providers about their work, lives, and contributions to their communities.