The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
April 12, 2018

Educator wages don’t reflect the significance of early childhood

April 12, 2018

In recent weeks, public school teachers in several states have staged strikes and walkouts to protest education budget cuts and low wages. Advocates for better compensation have argued that poor job conditions make it difficult to recruit and retain high-quality educators.

In the context of these ongoing policy debates, it is important to consider pay disparities within the educational workforce. Although compensation is a broad education policy issue, educators serving young children from birth through preschool are the lowest paid, often making poverty-level wages, and have less access to job-based benefits.

In a new report and fact sheet on compensation of early childhood educators in the Washington, DC, region, my colleagues and I find that early childhood educators have lower average hourly wages ($15.25) than even entry-level public school kindergarten teachers with no previous experience ($27.36), an overall gap of $12.11 per hour.

The gap is substantial even among early childhood educators with a bachelor’s degree. These educators earn only $1.75 per hour more, on average, than their counterparts who have not completed college ($16.60 versus $14.85).

Although our data did not include extensive information on broader aspects of compensation, the gap would be even larger if we included key benefits, such as paid time off, retirement, and insurance.

average hourly wages in the Washington, DC, Region in 2016 Dollars

Wage differences are even greater among minority educators. Hispanic educators make $4.30 per hour less, on average, than white educators ($13.55 versus $17.85). Black educators ($15.01) make more than Hispanic educators but less than white educators. In other words, Hispanic educators earn just 75 cents on average for every dollar earned by their white counterparts, and black educators earn 84 cents on the dollar. These results mirror national findings that early childhood educators of color earn even less than their white counterparts.

wage gaps between early childhood educators and kindergarten teachers in DC region

Early childhood is a critical time of development, laying the foundation for skills, behaviors, and health in adulthood. High-quality early learning experiences depend on having a stable, effective workforce of early childhood educators. Educators who work with young children in programs in child care centers, family child care, and schools play an indispensable role in shaping the quality of care and early learning children receive.

As we discuss in our report, research suggests that improved compensation would allow early childhood programs to recruit and retain a more skilled workforce, boosting the quality of early learning and leading to better developmental outcomes for children. At the same time, the economic conditions of early childhood educators and their families would also improve, and the resulting decreases in their poverty and receipt of public benefits would mean savings for taxpayers.

As policymakers consider the critical issue of compensation for their state teaching workforces, the early care and education workforce should be part of the conversation.

Xitlaly Valdez (left) and Vivian Viramontas make a papier-mâché brain during their pre-K class at St. Francis de Sales Catholic School on Tuesday, January 23, 2018. Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images.

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