Say NO to $12 an hour babysitting!

By Traci Scott,
Portland Writer,

Finances are tight. However, you and your significant other have managed to set aside $40 and decide to “splurge” for a night out consisting of an inexpensive dinner and a movie. You even decide to bring your own hidden snacks so you don’t have to pay $10 for movie popcorn. You line up a baby-sitter for your two children who will be sleeping for half of the time and ask the sitter what her rate is. Nothing prepares you for the following response: “$12 per hour”! Your four hour date has just gone from an estimated $40 to $88! After you recover from the shock, you decide to stay home and rent a movie instead.

According to, the average baby-sitting rate is currently $10 to $11 per hour for one child. Let me repeat that: $10 to $11 per hour! Worse, that amount can go up if you live in a big city, have more than one child, have a child under the age of three, or expect the sitter to do anything other than, well, sitting. If the sitter is an older teen or college age student, the average goes up to $15 to $20 per hour.

$15 per hour? The minimum wage is currently $8.40 per hour in Oregon. Most teens only earn minimum wage working in fast food restaurants or in retail settings at the local mall, and they are happy to get that. So why is the going rate for baby sitting nearly double the minimum wage?

My babysitting years peaked back in 1978, in which the minimum wage was $2.65 per hour. I made between $2 to $3 per hour babysitting, depending on the number of children and the generosity of the parents, which seemed reasonable at the time and still does.

Back in 1999 I hired a babysitter occasionally to watch my 2 children who were 3 and 5 at the time. I paid the sitter $6 per hour ($7 per hour when the kids were going to be up longer), compared to the minimum wage in effect at the time of $6.50. She seemed more than happy with her pay.

So why do today’s parents feel the need to go overboard and pay their sitter nearly twice the minimum wage? Are some parents under the mistaken belief that if they pay their sitter more, the sitter is more valuable and qualified for the job? Does it bring them greater peace of mind when they leave their children with someone they are paying $15 per hour vs. someone they are paying only $7 per hour.

Some parents respond that they have high expectations for someone taking care of their children, which includes being experienced, prepared and responsible, and that commands a higher rate than simply flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

Based on a recent Omamas survey in The Oregonian, 29% of respondents indicated they currently paid their sitters between $10-$15 per hour while 44% responded they pay $5-$10 per hour.

So, short of nearby grandparents who will babysit for free, what are parents to do given the prohibitive rates of today’s sitters if they want an occasional night out?

For evening outings in which the children will be sleeping for most of the time and the sitter’s only requirement is hanging out on the couch watching tv or talking on her cell phone, I would recommend $5 per hour for younger, less experienced teens and $7 per hour for older, more experienced teens. Anything beyond that is excessive.

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