[Editor’s note: A growing and increasingly voluminous body of research confirms the critical importance and long-term benefits of early childhood education. Unfortunately, despite some progress in recent decades, North Carolina still has miles to travel with respect to its investments in this area – especially when it comes to the compensation it provides to early childhood educators. Now, a new report from the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center (“A Two Generation Approach to Early Childhood: The Role of Wages and Compensation in Achieving Quality”) provides some new and instructive “must read” details for advocates and policymakers in this important field. The following is from the report’s introduction.]
Making certain that every infant is safe and developing, every toddler is thriving, and every preschooler is prepared for kindergarten smooths the pathway to lifetime success and happiness for all North Carolinians. Recent data collected by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation finds that North Carolinians recognize the importance of the early years and want to see policymakers make a significant investment to ensure more children can access quality early childhood education.
Yet the ability to both serve more children and ensure the quality of learning environments is currently constrained by the lack of public funding. Absent that public investment, the growing cost of child care for many families threatens to overtake housing as the major household expenditure. It can also force families to make difficult choices about remaining in the labor force and meeting all of the needs of their growing children.
North Carolina’s early childhood system is confronting the reality that the growth of low-wage work presents two major barriers to the ability to achieve higher quality and serve more children: (1) Parents simply cannot afford to pay rising child care costs with stagnate and low wages, and (2) Early childhood educators can’t make ends meet on their low wages and deliver a quality learning environment for each child.
North Carolina ranks 42nd for its high share of working people with children who earn poverty wages (12.1 percent).3 The rising cost of high-quality child care makes it difficult for many North Carolinians — from those earning poverty wages to those earning median wages in the state — to afford a quality early learning experience for their children, which is critical to those children’s lifetime earnings. At the same time, the emerging research is clear that the quality of pay and work environments has a significant relationship to the delivery of professional and quality services. For many early childhood educators, their pay is simply too low to make ends meet and provide quality child care for their own children, and this holds back the ability of the state to deliver a high-quality learning environment to every child.
This BTC Report provides an overview of the compensation received by early childhood educators, provides evidence for the positive contribution higher wage rates could make to the state’s goal of quality early childhood experiences for each child, outlines potential sources of funding to support the goal of taking a two-generation approach to our state’s early childhood system, and shares policies that have proven effective within the early childhood system to support early childhood educators.
Early childhood workers can’t afford quality care for their children
While North Carolina has led the nation in high-quality early childhood programs, it has fallen short in ensuring that early childhood educators can meet the needs of their own families, which leads to challenges in recruiting and retaining people in the profession. In North Carolina, as well as in many other states, early childhood educators are in economic distress because their salaries remain low, while their work is highly skilled. National research finds that this reality falls disproportionately on early childhood educators who are women5 — who comprise the vast majority of the early childhood workforce (95.6 percent) — educators of color7, and those working with the youngest children.8 In North Carolina, a 2015 workforce study by the Child Care Services Association found that infant and toddler teachers had a median wage of $10 per hour, compared to a median wage for pre-school teachers of $11.39 per hour.
Early childhood educators are responsible for safeguarding and facilitating the development and learning of our nation’s youngest children; they make it possible for parents to pursue employment outside of the home and spend more time at work, which has increasingly become an economic necessity. However, their wages do not match the importance and long-term impacts of their work.
In 2017, analysis of state level data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) finds that in North Carolina, the median wage for educators that BLS classifies as “child care workers”— those teaching children younger than 4 years old—was $9.8611; this was a 1 percent increase since 2015, but falls behind the 2017 national median hourly wage for child care workers ($10.72).
Further, according to a recent report from the Working Poor Families Project, on average, “early childhood educators are paid only slightly more than cashiers and dishwashers, and slightly less than coat and locker room attendants, and less than half of what kindergarten teachers earn despite working full-time year-round.” Additionally, almost half of the workers that the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as “child care workers” enroll in some form of public assistance for themselves or their families, such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and many are eligible for child care subsidies themselves.
In addition to salaries that fall short of national wages, North Carolina early childhood educators face important wage scale and wage progression differences based on their ability to gain employment at a high quality program….[Click here to continue reading…]