CAP Report Calls for More Early Learning Teacher Pay, Support

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

A new report dug deep to learn more about the early childhood workforce’s low wages and has found that African American full-time teachers make 84 cents for every dollar earned by their white peers, according to a press release from the Center for American Progress.

If a white teacher is making $13.86 an hour, her African American counterpart might make $366 less per month and $4,395 less per year. After using controls like years of experience, educational backgrounds, and employment characteristics, the wage gap is decreased to approximately 93 cents on the dollar. This amount makes quite a difference, especially in a workforce that makes less than $30,000 a year on average.

Also, over 95% of the early childhood education workforce is female.

“In early care and education, quality is a reflection of the skills and abilities of the workforce,” said Rebecca Ullrich, Policy Analyst at CAP and co-author of the report. “Care has to be high quality in order to promote equity for children and families. That goal is directly undermined if wages are not equitable for teachers. Our results suggest that teachers’ credentials and where they work do not fully account for differences in wages, which points to the presence of implicit biases.”

Over 3 million children under the age of six attend center-based care and education programs on a regular basis. Child care centers and preschools are becoming an important part of American children’s lives. In fact, 65% of young ones have all parents who are available in their lives away from them in the workforce.

Those who write policy are beginning to see the significance of early care and education, with it being more than just a work support tool for parents. These environments must improve youngster’s learning and development, so strategies must be in place to increase program value.

Skilled and competent teachers are necessary to provide the level of instruction needed to result in positive outcomes including social skills, numeracy understanding, and literacy skills, the report says. But most American early childhood instructors rank at the 20th percentile for mean yearly salaries — and add to that dismal ranking the fact that many teachers are not awarded benefits such as health insurance and paid leave.

Lawmakers must address compensation for early childhood teachers and make this issue a priority, says the CAP. When salaries are low, job satisfaction plummets and turnover rates climb. When teachers are not consistently present for children, the kids’ learning and development are affected. The struggle to recruit and retain quality early learning instructors will continue until wages are increased and benefits are added.

Ullrich adds that women of color are overrepresented in the early learning workforce, likely because of the barriers that limit access to higher education and training for people of color. But research has shown that black students’ outcomes and self-esteem increases when they are taught by an instructor who is also black. The catch is that diversity in the classroom decreases as credential requirements increase and the vicious circle continues.

The Center for American Progress suggests that the US establish a “High-Quality Child Care Tax Credit” to give low- and middle-class families up to $14,000 annually to pay for child care. This action would establish a well-funded child care system with appropriate wages and benefits for the early learning workforce.

In the short-term, adds Ullrich, policymakers should consider more scholarship programs for teachers who want a degree, a focus on teachers of color, the creation of wage equality, and the recognition of implicit biases in the workplace.