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Babysitting - then and now - Mo's Journal
May 23rd, 2006
01:12 pm

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Babysitting - then and now
When I was a high school babysitter (1970-73) the going rate where I lived (West Hartford, Connecticut) was fifty cents an hour, and a dollar after midnight. When kids turned 16 and could get "real jobs" working retail part-time, they often stopped sitting, because minimum wage was $1.65.

Now my teenage son prefers babysitting to a job flipping burgers or whatever, because he get $8-$10 an hour sitting and minimum wage is $5.15. Plus some of that time is typically spent literally sitting - once the child is sleeping he watches tv, reads, talks to his friends.


I almost never use a paid sitter anymore. I rarely go out without kids when they're with me, planning my no-kid events for when they are with their other mother. And only Zara really can't be alone at night, anyway. When I've needed someone to stay with her (e.g. I had to pick her sister up late at night a couple of weeks ago) I've had one of the big kids stay with her (Doran in that case, obviously). Up until about two years ago, I used to occasionally hire a teen sitter for the girls so Doran and I could go out. Lately he and I just go out occasionally to dinner and a movie on a night when the girls are with their other mother. When last I did use a sitter I think she charged $7 an hour.

That seems to be the range of going rates for kid sitters here (Park Slope, Brooklyn) - somewhere from $7 on the low end to $10 or $11 on the high end. Adult sitters are more.

I'd like to think that the change in relative wages between babysitting and minimum wage from my adolescence to my son's reflects a greater value put on caring for children than there used to be. I fear, though, that it just demonstrates the erosion of the minimum wage.

I lived on the minimum wage for several years in the 1970s, putting myself through college on part-time minimum wage work during the school year and full time during the summer. I did similarly in library school, although I borrowed some money for tuition then. Even leaving out tuition costs (I did my undergraduate degree in Canada, where higher education is very highly subsidized by the government - I paid the same tuition at McGill in the 1970s as my mother did at University of Manitoba in the early 1950s), the prospect of someone living on part-time minimum wages eight months a year and full time minimum wage four months a year seems pretty bleak. Now, I did live pretty much in squalor :-). I was in cheap rental apartments with second hand furniture and very little in the way of luxuries of any kind, but I sheltered and fed and clothed myself and even occasionally went to the movies.

I think working at minimum wage at the level I did then (15-20 hours per week during the school year, 40 hours a week in the summer) would gross someone around $6000 a year now. So, $500 a month. I can't imagine anyone managing to live on that in New York City!


Anyway, I realize not everyone on my flist is a parent (or a former babysitter) but if you are one or the other or both, please weigh in:

1. If you were a babysitter, how much money did you make an hour? Where and when was this? Was it more or less than minimum wage?

2. If you are a parent, how much do you pay sitters? Does it matter how old they are? Do you pay more for more kids? Do you pay any extras - transit fare home or money to send out for dinner?

3. Where do you live? Do you feel what you pay (or are paid) is representative of what's generally charged/paid in your area?

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From:born2rumble1st
Date:May 23rd, 2006 05:59 pm (UTC)
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I'm currently a college student putting myself through school by babysitting. I live in Florida and the average going rate is about $8 an hour for one kid and $10 an hour for two or more. I care for 3 children right now and I'm paid $10 an hour for about 18 hours a week. This adds up to about $720 a month, which is more than my friends make working 30 hours a week at a minimum wage job after taxes are taken out. I love my job and it leaves me plenty of time to go to school and to hang out with my friends. Granted, without the scholarships I have I would have to work a lot more, but compared to the rest of my friends I live in the lap of luxury. My job is relatively easy compared to thiers as well. What other job lets you play games all day and cook just one meal of relatively simple food? Not to mention, once you consider the piano lessons, swim team, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, theater, and chess club, I really only have one or two of the children at a time. Sure, you have to deal with tantrums and no other job entails being beat up by a seven year-old, but when you receive a painting done just for you or when one of them says "I wish you were my mom," it makes it all worth it. I don't do my job for the money, though that certainly doesn't hurt, I do it for the satisfaction I get from seeing "my" kids happy. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
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From:mofic
Date:May 23rd, 2006 06:59 pm (UTC)
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It sounds like a great arrangement for all concerned.
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From:chimosa
Date:May 23rd, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC)
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I don't know if this will help, but- last year I had a job babysitting/tutoring these nine yo triplets in Yonkers. It was six hours a week, $20 an hour.
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From:mofic
Date:May 23rd, 2006 06:56 pm (UTC)
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Oh wow! I don't think there's enough money in the world to compensate for babysitting and tutoring nine year old triplets! I'm sure I could never do it.

Anyway, I do think tutoring pays more, don't you?
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From:chimosa
Date:May 23rd, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)
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I don't think there's enough money in the world to compensate for babysitting and tutoring nine year old triplets!

No, no there's really not which is one of the many many reasons I stopped working for them. I do agree that tutoring pays more, which is why I wasn't sure if it counted but, like I said, I did sometimes have to just babysit. Bleh, that was a semester of my life I'll never get back...
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From:ringthebells
Date:May 23rd, 2006 06:38 pm (UTC)
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In the mid-nineties in Halifax, NS I think I made $5/h babysitting, which was just barely below the minimum wage of $5.15.
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From:mofic
Date:May 23rd, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
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Any sense what it's like now? I think minimum wage is higher in Canada than here. It also comes with vacation pay (or at least did when I lived there). Plus there's the fact that everyone has health insurance, which makes living on minimum wage rather than a salaried job with insurance, at least a little more feasible.
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From:ringthebells
Date:May 26th, 2006 01:47 am (UTC)
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Hm, no idea I'm afraid, as I'm now quite out of touch with Halifax teenagers.
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From:opera142
Date:May 23rd, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC)
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Late-80's. Wis/MN. In Wis it was nothing an hour. I lived in a small town and babysitting was done for free because my mom ordered me to as a favor. In Minnesota, it was generally, a dollar an hour per kid. Minimum wage was 3.85, I think. Once I was old enough, I ditched babysitting and got a retail job-- I hated babysitting.

I do not have children, so I did a quick survey of my co-workers. A few said they hand out a flat rate (usually 20 bucks) for the evening, the rest said the going rate ran 5 to 10 dollars an hour. Largely, though, my co-workers said they relied on their parents or older children. No one paid their parents, about half said they gave the older child a little money for the chore.

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From:mofic
Date:May 23rd, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC)
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I lived in a small town and babysitting was done for free

I have lots of younger siblings. Mostly I also sat for free - it was part of my household chores. But if I was offered a paying babysitting job and had to turn it down because my parents were going out, they paid me to make up for the lost wages.

Thanks for surveying your cow-orkers. Where do you live now?
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From:opera142
Date:May 24th, 2006 03:56 am (UTC)
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St. Paul
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From:mofic
Date:May 24th, 2006 10:33 am (UTC)
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Two of my sibs live in the Twin Cities.
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From:melty_girl
Date:May 23rd, 2006 09:46 pm (UTC)
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1. In the mid-eighties, I worked full-time one summer taking care of two kids and doing light cleaning. I made $3 an hour, which was somewhere aroud 50 cents less than minimum wage. My mom agreed to it somewhat reluctantly, but it was considered right because I was only 15 or 16.

2. I'm not yet a parent, but I babysit often for my friends' kids for free. Babysitters are so expensive now, that most of my close friends don't go out unless adult friends can babysit for free.

3. I live in the SF Bay Area. I don't know what the going rate is.

I think you're correct that it's about the stagnancy of the minimum wage more than it is about respect for childcare workers.
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From:mofic
Date:May 24th, 2006 01:16 am (UTC)
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Babysitters are so expensive now, that most of my close friends don't go out unless adult friends can babysit for free.

When my eldest was a baby friends did babysit for us. We also had an arrangement with friends of ours who had one child where we took turns - one couple went out and one took care of both kids.

By the time we had three kids it seemed like a much bigger deal to ask friends to take care of them. Also, just before the second was born, we moved into a semi-communal coop apartment building. There were a bunch of teenagers in the building and they all babysat. I'd never used teenage sitters before, but when they were kids I knew well and their parents were right there, it felt much more secure...
From:bfmomma
Date:May 23rd, 2006 11:33 pm (UTC)

Northern WI/Milwaukee WI

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In the early to mid-80's in Northern Wisconsin, I made $1 an hour--whether for 1 kid or four, and whether it was daytime or nighttime. One New Year's Eve I got $3 an hour because there was such demand!

Now if I were to get a babysitter, the going rate is about $5 an hour per kid in the Milwaukee suburb where I live.
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From:mofic
Date:May 24th, 2006 01:17 am (UTC)

Re: Northern WI/Milwaukee WI

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When did you get an LJ? I'll friend you and then you can read my flocked entries. Well, I've only had one :-) but...

What was minimum wage, Lori, when you were making $1 an hour for babysitting?
From:bfmomma
Date:May 24th, 2006 02:24 am (UTC)

Re: Northern WI/Milwaukee WI

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>When did you get an LJ? I'll friend you and then you can read my flocked >entries. Well, I've only had one :-) but...

I got an LJ when I requested info on blogs and I joined LJ and Xanga and Blogger. I only "use" my blogger one, though, other than to post to other people's blogs.

>What was minimum wage when you were making $1 an hour for babysitting?

I believe it was $3.35. $3.35 is the only amount I can remember being minimum wage. But I started babysitting when I was 11 and didn't get a minimum wage job until I was 15. Yep, I googled it. $3.35 an hour.

p.s. I only go by "bfmomma" on my blog(s)... my tiny attempt at protecting privacy. lol... That, and calling my kids by their initials
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From:mofic
Date:May 24th, 2006 10:50 am (UTC)

Re: Northern WI/Milwaukee WI

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Okay butch/femme, breastfeeding, boyfriending, buttf---ing mama - I'll try to remember. At least I didn't disclose your last name or kids' names. ::hangs my head in shame at indiscretion::
From:bfmomma
Date:May 24th, 2006 02:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Northern WI/Milwaukee WI

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lol... yeah, I know. my nickname could mean any of a million things. You forgot "big, fat"...

and no biggie. lotsa loris out there... even in Milwaukee! :)
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From:blue_braces
Date:May 24th, 2006 01:32 am (UTC)
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I can't speak to the babysitting wages, but you might be interested in Barbara Ehrenreich's book _Nickel and Dimed_ if you're interested in how people can survive (or not) on minimum wage. It's a non-fiction book about how the author tried to survive on that type of wage. The publisher's page on it has this sentence that made me laugh, though it's not really funny at all:

She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

BTW, I liked reading about your kids' school. How was the talent show?
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From:mofic
Date:May 24th, 2006 11:07 am (UTC)
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I did read the Ehrenreich book, although I'd forgotten about it when I wrote this.

The talent show was adorable in its own dreadful way :-). And long, very long. The kids all were soooo cute and they just loved being up there singing or dancing or putting on a skit or pretending to be a robot. No talent required and hundreds of people will cheer. It's a great thing, really. And long, very long.

The kids in the show got t-shirts that said "PS 261 Talent Show 2006" on the front and "I survived" on the back. I told my ex the parents should have gotten the shirts.
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From:notmonica
Date:May 24th, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
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1. Yes, I babysat, alot. I lived in the Greater Seattle area and babysat through high school and a bit during college (1977-1983). When I started I got $2-3 an hour (generally $3) and minimum wage was $2.18 an hour back then.

2/3. I am a parent of 2 children who are both young (pre-school to early grade school age). I live in Ohio and I pay $10 an hour to any sitter that is 16yrs. of age or older. This seems to be about average for any sitter that is worth while.

I think that minimum wage is hopelessly out of step with the economy. I'd like to think that it's because we value childcare more as a society but I don't think that's it. I do know parents in my area that think I'm nuts to pay $10/hour but I don't think childcare is the area to bargain hunt and anytime I've had someone who was less expensive, well, let's just say-I got what I paid for!
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From:mofic
Date:May 24th, 2006 10:37 am (UTC)
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I think that minimum wage is hopelessly out of step with the economy.

I agree! When did it last go up?
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From:eveningblue
Date:May 24th, 2006 02:07 am (UTC)
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When I think back to how all these parents trusted me, a 13- or 14-year-old kid, to take care of their kids, I am amazed. What would I have done in a true emergency? I would never have been able to handle it the way an adult would.

When I was babysitting in the late '70s-early '80s, in Queens, NY, I made about $2/hr. It was pretty easy work, and I usually spent most of the night talking on the phone to my friends or watching tv. I had one sweet gig--a regular Saturday night job for people who had cable tv. Cable was brand new back then, and very few people had it. I remember watching Fleetwood Mac in concert, and thinking that was really cool.

These people also had every single Travis McGee novel, and I spent a lot of time reading them.
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From:mofic
Date:May 24th, 2006 10:38 am (UTC)
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I remember some jobs as really enjoyable and easy, too. I have so many siblings that just being in a quiet house after the kid went to bed was a treat.
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From:mofic
Date:May 24th, 2006 10:36 am (UTC)
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I'm not surprised it's cheaper where you live than where I do!

I was reluctant to hire kid babysitters at first, but when they're kids you know well it feels pretty secure. I feel like someone else said - I'm shocked at how parents trusted me with their kids when I was a kid myself. Particularly the ones who didn't know me at all.

I'm glad mostly, to be on the other end of this now - not paying for sitters and my big kids (Doran a lot, Kendra a little) earning money that way.
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From:auntfaintly
Date:May 24th, 2006 03:54 pm (UTC)

wage comparisons

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Babysitting rates also reflect supply and demand - my birth year 1960 was at or near the top of the baby boom (I think it was not the highest birth rate, but the most actual births, or vice versa) and birth rates declined after. So there was a greater supply of sitters per child needing care then, and by the time my half-siblings were born (early 1980s) this trend had reversed itself. Sitters were scarce relative to demand.

Another factor is that I'm sure parents go out much more now and in this area than where and when I grew up. Parents work and commute longer hours - my father pretty much left work at 5 every day as an IBM researcher and executive (although later he traveled extensively). My mother managed to complete a PhD coming home at 6 every night (she put in work at home time in the evening). Today's mostly smaller families are less likely to have a built-in older sibling sitter.

None of the above has anything to do with the minimum wage. That actually went up a lot during my babysitting/childcare years (when inflation was high), from $1.60 in the early '70s to $3.10 when I was in college. I can't remember what I got for babysitting and other similar work (I did some housecleaning), maybe $1/hr, maybe $2.50. I got minimum wage or close to it working in an organized after-school program, as a camp couselor, and as an office temp - by the time I did that min wage was up to $3.35. My first salaried job in publishing ($12,500 a year) works out to slightly over $7/hr for a 35hr week.

Around the same time, tuition at prestigious private universities was in the $3000-$7000 range (there was a range and it went up).

The thing that has really gone up the most in this time is housing. The house I grew up in sold for around $100K in 1980 (it needed some work) and AFAICT a similar house in good condition is in the $800K-$1.2MM range now. That's 10x as much, whereas entry-level publishing salaries are probably only around 2.5-3X what I made.

We pay teenage babysitters $8-10/hr and adults (teacher, substitute techer) $15. Also, some sitters seem to charge more for multiple kids, which I never heard of in the 70s or 80.

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From:mofic
Date:May 24th, 2006 09:12 pm (UTC)

Re: wage comparisons

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Interesting thoughts. I see you and I have the same idea of current sitting costs, which makes sense since we live 3 blocks from each other.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 28th, 2006 07:41 am (UTC)
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Hi, I hope you don't mind me just dropping in like this. I came across your LJ via several other LJ's.

I'm 23 and for the last several years I've been babysitting my next door neighbour's son part time. I make $10 an hour, a little extra if he has a friend over though there's not really a set rate. It depends on how long the friend stays. A couple hours and $5 to $10 will be added to the total.

I've occasionally had to watch him into early morning hours and when that happens I get payed less (say from 1 to 3 am.) I've watched him several times overnight - and once over a weekend where I got $200.

I'm from Canada and where I live the minimum wage is $7.

I don't have children myself, and of those of my friends that do use a babysitter or babysit I have no idea how much they make. Though I assume it's around the same as I do.

I hope that was helpful.

- Iaria
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From:mofic
Date:May 28th, 2006 12:27 pm (UTC)
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Glad you dropped in. Sounds like you have a good deal. I'm surprised you get paid less when you stay later, though. I always got more for staying late...
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From:bant
Date:June 20th, 2006 12:00 am (UTC)
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I made a dollar an hour in the seventies that went up to $2 an hour. Minimum wage was $2.50 or $3 so in Ontario. I think it's gone up in proportion because parents are not so trusting about who can watch their children.
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From:mofic
Date:June 20th, 2006 12:41 am (UTC)
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I think it's gone up in proportion because parents are not so trusting about who can watch their children.

That's a good point. To the extent that parents are looking for more experienced and older sitters, they'll need to pay more.
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