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2020 Early Childhood Workforce Index Provides Powerful State-by-State Data on Wage Collapse

Since 2016, the biennial Early Childhood Workforce Index from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California-Berkeley has tracked the status of the early care and education workforce and related state policies in order to identify promising practices for improving early educator jobs and changes over time. The 2020 edition – released in February of 2021 – puts more hard data behind the growing awareness that the U.S. child care system is collapsing under the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, with early childhood educators especially hard hit.

The report shows that the collapse will likely continue without public investment and fundamental policy reform.

Early Childhood Workforce Idex 2020

The 2020 Early Childhood Workforce Index includes new analyses as well as updated policy indicators and recommendations. Highlights include a comparison of child care worker wages and a living wage in every state, a comparison of pay and poverty rates between early educators with bachelor’s degrees and K-8 teachers, spotlights on state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and detailed tables on state workforce policies and initiatives.

The data show that state by state, child care workers earn a national median wage of just $11.65 an hour, and in the majority of states, wages fall short of the living wage for a single adult.

Even before the pandemic, the index finds, progress toward better compensation has been limited and uneven across states and among different classifications of early educators. For a single adult with one child, median child care worker wages do not meet a living wage in any state. And early educators experience poverty at nearly eight times the rate of K-8 teachers.

The report offers guidance to state advocates on the policies that require attention and includes interactive maps and detailed tables on state workforce policies, initiatives, and wages.

“Early educators’ poor working conditions are not inevitable, but a product of policy choices that have typically let down the women and men who are doing this essential work.”

Caitlin McLean, PhD
Senior Research Specialist, Index Co-Author
Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California-Berkeley

The Early Childhood Workforce Index shows why a comprehensive national child care strategy is needed, said co-author Dr. Lea Austin. “Parents are footing the bill for most child care in this country, and the market-based system means there’s just not enough resources to ensure that early educators are paid a living wage.”

Recommended policies include:

    • Invest in direct public funding to provide early educators with a living wage, health care, and safe and supportive work environments. 
    • Prioritize appropriate compensation as an essential component for rebuilding the early care and education system, targeting wages/salaries as well as benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement plans). Include early educators working in both center- and home-based child care settings.  
    • Improve compensation by setting local or statewide wage and benefit standards to address wage inequity. Standards should account for job role, experience, and education levels and calibrate up to parity with similarly qualified elementary school teachers. Ensure regular adjustments for cost of living and changes in educational attainment.

The index – funded in part by the Alliance for Early Success — is one of numerous ways CSCCE supports the Alliance’s state early childhood policy allies.

Established in 1999, the center conducts research and policy analysis about the characteristics of those who care for and educate young children and examines policy solutions aimed at improving how our nation prepares, supports, and rewards these early educators to ensure young children’s optimal development. CSCCE provides research and expert analysis on topics that include compensation and economic insecurity among early educators, early childhood teacher preparation and access to educational opportunities, work environments, and early childhood workforce data sources and systems.

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