Fact Sheet

Early Learning in the United States: 2021

These state fact sheets provide data on access to affordable child care for families, compensation for child care providers, and economic benefits of increased public investment in early learning.

A child plays with blocks on a table at an early childhood education center in Boston on January 31, 2013. (Getty/David L. Ryan)

These fact sheets are part of a series examining early learning programs across the United States. See the 201620172018, and 2019 versions for previous years’ data.

The Center for American Progress produces annual state fact sheets that overview the current early childhood landscape and opportunities to expand access to quality child care and early learning for families across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The 2021 update includes information regarding:

  • Affordability and access for families
  • Compensation for child care providers and early educators
  • Economic benefits of increased public investment to support the early learning field

These fact sheets can help stakeholders better understand the critical need for long-term federal investment to make early learning affordable and accessible for all families while also ensuring that early educators are fairly compensated. Furthermore, long-term public investment in child care and preschool would reduce educational disparities among young children, provide economic stability for working families and child care providers, and strengthen each state’s economy.

The dearth of affordable, quality options forces many parents to reduce the number of hours they work or leave the paid workforce altogether.

Families cannot afford child care

Child care and early learning opportunities are out of reach for many families across the United States. Parents struggle to find affordable, quality options that meet their needs and often spend far more on child care than the federal affordability benchmark of 7 percent of annual family income. Parents—particularly women—are constrained by the lack of options available for their young children while they work. The dearth of affordable, quality options forces many parents to reduce the number of hours they work or leave the paid workforce altogether.

Child care workers and early educators are undervalued

Meanwhile, child care workers and early educators—who both historically and today are mostly women and disproportionately women of color—face poverty-level wages for their essential work. This is the result of decades of undervaluing the critical caregiving that makes other work possible. For comparison, child care providers and early educators in almost every state make a fraction of what kindergarten teachers with similar education and experience earn. These paltry wages lead to high turnover and challenges finding qualified educators to care for the country’s youngest children.

The current subsidy system does not reach most eligible families

The Child Care and Development Block Grant is the primary source of federal funding that provides child care subsidies to families with low incomes. Currently, only 1 in 9 eligible children under the age of 6 benefits from this program due to insufficient funding. Moreover, the current subsidy reimbursement rates only cover a fraction of the true cost required to provide quality child care. Child care provisions in the Build Back Better Act would dramatically improve child care access in America, guaranteeing that more than 93 percent of families across the country qualify for affordable child care that does not exceed 7 percent of a family’s income.

Opportunities for progress

The coronavirus pandemic has only intensified a child care crisis caused by decades of underinvestment. As states look to emerge from the pandemic stronger and more economically resilient, child care can play a critical role in ensuring that parents have the support required to return to work. Bold and comprehensive reform, such as the child care and preschool provisions in the Build Back Better Act, would transform the child care industry, save the typical family thousands of dollars annually on child care, and provide early learning opportunities that would benefit generations to come.

To see state-specific data, please click the links below:

The author would like to thank Rasheed Malik for his data analysis; Kyle Ross and Justin Schweitzer for their data checking; and CAP’s Art team for designing and laying out the fact sheets.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


MK Falgout

Policy and Research Associate

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