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Fact Sheet

Early Learning in the United States

Because high-quality child care and preschool prepare children for school and enable parents to work, they are necessities for children, families, and the economy, and state and federal policymakers must work to improve the U.S. early learning landscape.

Part of a Series
Children climb in the playground at a preschool in Hinesburg, Vermont, July 7, 2016. (AP/Lisa Rathke)
Children climb in the playground at a preschool in Hinesburg, Vermont, July 7, 2016. (AP/Lisa Rathke)

These fact sheets contain a correction.

Early Learning in the United States

Explore other fact sheets in this series.

The United States is home to almost 24 million children younger than age 6. Sixty-five percent of these children have all available parents in the workforce, making access to high-quality early learning programs a necessity. These programs benefit parents and children alike, allowing parents to work while their children are in safe, nurturing environments that facilitate learning and development.

For too many families, high-quality programs are out of reach. The average cost of center-based care in the United States comprises nearly 30 percent of the median family income. However, the high cost of care does not guarantee quality: Only 10 percent of child care programs in the United States are considered to be high quality. While there is some public funding available at the preschool level, only 14 percent of 3-year-olds and 36 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in a public preschool setting, such as Head Start or a state-funded preschool program, and even among these publicly funded preschool programs, quality varies greatly.

The following fact sheets provide an in-depth look at both the need for and the current state of early learning programs in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The fact sheets include:

  • State-specific costs of child care and cost as a percentage of income for families of color and families living in poverty
  • Brief descriptions of state-funded preschool programs and the proportion of children in each state who access these programs
  • How access to affordable, high-quality early childhood programs can boost states’ economies
  • How policies such as the High-Quality Child Care Tax Credit and voluntary universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds can benefit children and families in each state

State and federal policymakers and advocates alike can use this tool to highlight why it is important to enact policies that support young children’s learning and development and improve the economic security of families.

Jessica Troe is the Policy and Outreach Coordinator for the Early Childhood Policy team at the Center for American Progress.

*Correction, July 19, 2017: These fact sheets have been updated to clarify that the second pie chart refers to state-specific data.

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Jessica Troe

Policy and Outreach Coordinator

Explore The Series

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.


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