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Early educators are among the lowest paid in the U.S.

Donna Tam Jul 7, 2016
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A new study says workforce policies are not effectively supporting early educators like child care workers and preschool teachers.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The median wage of child care workers in the U.S. is $9.77 an hour, and nearly half of those workers receive welfare in some way, according to a report released Thursday.

These findings indicate that child care employees are some of the lowest paid people in the country, according to the Early Childhood Workforce Index, which analyzed the policies and working conditions affecting child care workers and preschool teachers on a state-by-state basis.

The report found that 46 percent child care workers are part of families that are on welfare, like Medicaid or food stamps. Preschool teachers earned a little more than child care workers. But with a median wage of $13.74, they still made less than $17.40 — the median wage for all U.S. jobs in 2015. 

The research, conducted by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California, Berkeley, covers the jobs of two million people. According to the report, 12 million children are in child care and preschool. 

The importance of early education is often stressed in discussions and studies about the development of children.

“An investment in those early years, especially for kids in low income homes, pays off, certainly for those kids, but for the society as a whole,” Paul Tough, the author of “Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why,” told Marketplace’s Amy Scott last year.

The center’s report questions how educators can provide children with a quality education if they aren’t compensated or supported properly.

“Early educators’ skills, knowledge, and well-being are inseparable from the quality of children’s early learning experiences,” Marcy Whitebook, the center’s director, said in a press release. “But states are failing to provide the combination of appropriate compensation, professional work environments, and training teachers need to help children succeed.”

To illustrate how policy is shaping these low wages, the center created an interactive map detailing the status of pay increases or decline, and the progress of policy policy in different states. Thirteen states increased wages for early educators between 2010 and 2015, and two states had no change. As for the rest of the country, wages decreased by at least 5 percent within the same time frame:

A screenshot of the map created by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.

The center said it will continue to track these numbers and publish findings every two years. See the entire project here.

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