Early Childhood Educators in Crisis

Early childhood educators are in crisis, according to the latest annual report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley. The report, published on June 27th, details the characteristics of and conditions facing the early educator workforce across the nation, and on a state-by-state level.

The report finds that across the nation, low wages for child care workers, rising childcare costs, and deep disparities in compensation mean that those charged with taking care of and educating our children are often struggling to support their own families.

The issues facing child care workers have multi-generational consequences. Nationally, over 40 percent of center-based staff have at least one child under 13 in their house, and another roughly 25 percent have at least once child five years or younger at home. Yet the wages these workers earn are often too low to afford early childhood care and education for their own children, according to the report.

In 2017, the median hourly wage for child care workers in all settings was $10.72/hour, compared to $31.29/hour for kindergarten teachers in schools. At $10.35/hour, the national median hourly wage for self-employed home care providers was the lowest out of all the early childhood educator occupations. Nationally, 53 percent of child care workers were part of families enrolled in at least one of four public support and health care programs, which include the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as “food stamps”; and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) between the 2014-2016 period.

The situation is even bleaker for women of color, who make up nearly 40 of the early educator workforce and occupy a disproportionate number of the lowest paying jobs in the field. Nationally, while 74 percent of the White center-based staff population earns less than $15/hour, 84 percent of the African American population earns less than $15/hour.

In Connecticut, the picture does not appear much brighter. According to the report's Connecticut index, an estimated 15,860 people are in the early childhood workforce. This number does not count in-home childcare workers or self-employed childcare workers, who are more likely to face lower wages than staff working in schools settings. Here, while the median wage for child care workers experienced a 7 percent increase from 2015 to 2017, at $11.87/hour, it still represents only 54% of the state median hourly wage of $22.05/hour.  

As our state begins to explore two-generation approaches to alleviating poverty, it must consider how the issues facing child care workers in Connecticut. As the report concludes, policies like paid family and medical leave, along with a meaningful increase in the minimum wage, could significantly improve the position of our most valuable workers and their families.

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