State-by-state analysis shows U.S. child care workforce struggling to survive

This is the moment to be bold about improving the status of the early childhood workforce, and the Index provides the facts and the vision to guide advocates to action. It is an essential resource for all those working to ensure we build back better for children, families, and those who care.

Joan Lombardi, former Deputy Assistant Secretary, Early Childhood Development, USDHHS (2009-11)

The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment released the 2020 Early Childhood Workforce IndexThe report provides a data-rich look at state-based policies and conditions for the early care and education workforce. 

The biennial 2020 Early Childhood Workforce Index finds that state by state, child care workers earn a national median wage of just $11.65 an hour for one of the most important jobs in the nation. The report highlights the few bright spots of progress on state policies, such as COVID-19 pandemic crisis measures. For example, North Carolina and New Mexico provided monthly bonus payments ranging from $350 to $950 per month to help keep early education staff afloat.

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:

  • In the majority of states, wages fall short of the living wage for a single adult.
  • For a single adult with one child, median child care worker wages do not meet a living wage in any state. Many early educators are parents themselves, with children at home.
  • Early educators experience poverty at nearly eight times the rate of K-8 teachers.

“The turnover in the profession is outrageous,” said Davina Woods, director of Excel Christian Academy in Burlington, North Carolina. “No one wants to stick and stay because the salary and compensation package is so low. By county standards, we’re paying very well, and yet I have members of my team that receive food stamps. Out of the 14 full-time staff that are a part of my team, five of them have second jobs at places like Target.”

The Early Childhood Workforce Index shows the lack of action by most states to ensure that early educators earn a living wage. In California, for example, the state budget earmarks funds toward professional development but does not address poverty-level wages, which will continue to drive qualified teachers out of the profession and do nothing to reduce the closures of child care facilities. 

The report offers guidance to advocates, states, and the federal government 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,” said co-author Dr. Caitlin McLean. 

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.”

This third edition also contains:

  • An interactive U.S. map and detailed tables on wages, state workforce policies, and initiatives
  • Spotlights on state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Policy recommendations on how to bolster the safety and livelihoods of early educators during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond
  • An advocacy toolkit with policy guidelines and framing language