Improving Equity & Opportunity in Illinois’ Workforce–Ready Nation

Workers of color represent a growing and formidable portion of the Illinois workforce, about one in three workers. Yet they bear a disproportionate share of our economic challenges, ranging from lower average pay to higher unemployment rates — factors that haven’t been helped by the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, children of color account for 49 percent of Illinois’ youngest learners, yet similarly face outsized problems.

On average, only three out of 10 Illinois children entering kindergarten are fully prepared for school, according to the State Board of Education — a startling, overall statistic that’s even more alarming among Black youngsters (23 percent), Latino children (17 percent) and English learners (14 percent).

A new report from ReadyNation Illinois calls for ensuring greater equity in early childhood investments to help children of color off to the best start in life, a path that can also lead to better outcomes in jobs and careers. For example, research shows that investments in early education can help dramatically shrink gaps in school-entry skills seen between white children and those of color; other studies indicate particularly strong pre-literacy and math gains for Black children who’ve attended preK — foundational skills on which school and workforce success can be built.

“The stability and success of these children and their families are key to the ongoing success of our entire state,” states our report. “Helping youngsters of color to reach their full potential in learning and life is a just and smart investment in helping our entire workforce and economy to, in turn, reach their full potential.”

Among other things, the ReadyNation Illinois report recommends:

  • Boosting early childhood workforce development and compensation, especially considering this labor pool’s heavy reliance upon women — and women of color;
  • Bolstering social-emotional supports for young children, their teachers and caregivers;
  • Focusing further on meeting children’s foundational, prenatal-to-3 needs, as envisioned by Illinois PN3 plans and related coalition efforts; and
  • Taking bold steps in pursuing big-picture, systemic reforms of early childhood services, such as those represented in the unfolding work of a state commission studying adequacy, equity and governance improvements.

“Ensuring justice and fairness in society isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a smart investment,” concludes our report. Our network of business leaders hopes to help our state make the necessary early childhood investments to benefit Illinoisans of color, in particular, and our entire workforce and economy.