A New Index Looks at the Early Childhood Workforce — and so do National Media Outlets

Image: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment


A new publication — the “Early Childhood Workforce Index 2016” — presents a familiar good news/bad news scenario about early educators.

The good news: “Early educators play a central role in the environments in which millions of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers develop and learn.” The country relies on educators’ “ knowledge and skills to provide high-quality early care and education to our increasingly diverse population of children and families.”

But here’s the bad news: “our system of preparing, supporting, and rewarding early educators in the United States remains largely ineffective, inefficient, and inequitable, posing multiple obstacles to teachers’ efforts to nurture children’s optimal development and learning, as well as risks to their own well-being.”

The index was just released by Marcy Whitebook and her colleagues at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

“The Index is part of the State of the Early Childhood Workforce Initiative, a multi-year project to shine a steady spotlight on our nation’s early childhood workforce.”

This work is also a “first.” It’s “the first-ever comprehensive state-by-state analysis of early childhood employment conditions and policies,” and it’s the first to provide “practical policy solutions that policymakers, business and labor leaders, and educators can use” to address the crisis of early educators’ low wages and the shortage of “affordable, high quality services for children and families in the United States.”

A press release lists some of the index’s findings:

• “Nearly one-half of child care workers (46 percent), compared to 26 percent of the U.S. workforce, are part of families that participate in at least one public assistance program, such as Medicaid or food stamps.”

• “Early educators are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. The median hourly wages for child care workers range from $8.72 in Mississippi to $12.24 in New York. Nationwide, the median wage is $9.77. Preschool teachers fare somewhat better: wages range from $10.54 in Idaho to $19.21 in Louisiana. In contrast, the median national wage for kindergarten teachers is $24.83,” and

• all 50 states have policies that “shortchange the two million early educators who are shaping the future of 12 million children in child care and preschool across the nation”

An interactive map links to profiles of all 50 states.

The Massachusetts profile points out that:

• “In 2015, the median wage for child care workers was $12.01, a 2% decrease since 2010.”

• “For preschool teachers, the median wage was $15.18, a 5% decrease since 2010.”

• 39 percent of child care worker families’ participation in one or more public income support programs, and

• the cost of these public programs is $35.6 million

In the face of these statistics, the index says:

“The case for changing this status quo is incontrovertible. As a matter of justice to the early childhood workforce, their own families, and the children of the families they serve, another 25 years is too long to wait for improvements in early childhood jobs.”

The index’s proposed solutions are:

• advancing workforce preparation by “establishing minimum educational requirements, developing well-defined career pathways, and ensuring that all members of the current workforce have access to foundational and advanced training and education”

• establishing “work environment standards to reduce stressful conditions” and promote the “effective teaching necessary for supporting children’s optimal development and learning”

• implementing compensation and benefit guidelines

• developing a comprehensive, up-to-date workforce data system, and

• investing in these recommendations


News Roundup

A number of national and regional newspapers have covered the index’s release. Here are a handful:

Child Care Expansion Takes a Toll on Poorly Paid Workers
The New York Times, July 12, 2016

“Carmella Salinas has worked steadily for 14 years as an early-childhood-education teacher, taking care of 4- and 5-year-olds at the nonprofit Family Learning Center in the hardscrabble community of Española, just north of Santa Fe, N.M. Even so, she rarely earns enough to cover all her bills, and has more than once received a disconnection letter from the water, gas or electric company. A few months ago, she arrived home with her 10-year-old son, Aaron, to find the electricity shut off.”

“‘But Mom,’ she recalled Aaron saying, ‘don’t they know it’s your birthday?’”


Where Child-Care Workers and Early Educators Earn the Most and Least: Early childhood workers are among the lowest paid in the U.S., a new study finds
The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2016

“‘This is a really dysfunctional system,’ said Marcy Whitebook, a co-author of the study and director of the center. ‘We want these early educators to get our kids off to a good start but we don’t necessarily give them the sufficient preparation and pay, they need.”


Half of America’s childcare workers need food stamps, welfare payments or Medicaid
The Washington Post, July 11, 2016

“‘Children in settings with high turnover,’ Whitebook said, ‘you see the impact on them, in terms of language and social development.’”

“The economics of child care in the United States remain broken, she said. Parents are spending mortgage-like sums to get their toddler a spot at a local day care, even if its quality is unclear. Providers aren’t profiting much, thanks largely to regulations that exist to keep kids safe.”


Early Education is a Disaster in U.S., Study Finds: Policies in all 50 states fall short of addressing the issues.
U.S. News and World Report, July 7, 2016

“Among many other things in the 120-page report, early education policies across the U.S. fall short on a number of measurable indicators, including pay, professional development, paid planning time, paid sick leave, and other policies that impact the ability of early educators to teach effectively and remain on the job.”


Share the index on social media with the hashtags #ECIndex and #worthywages.

A media toolkit and infographics are posted here.

“We recognize that major investments will be necessary for restructuring how we finance and deliver early care and education,” the report says. “We need, in the spirit of the 1990s Worthy Wage Campaign, to find a more equitable way to help parents pay and to attract teachers and help them stay – something that our Department of Defense, a handful of state pre-K programs, and most other industrialized nations have managed to accomplish.”