Early Learning in the United States: 2019

    These fact sheets are part of an annual series examining early learning programs across the United States. See the 2016, 2017, and 2018 versions for previous years’ data.

    To better understand the current state of early learning and the opportunities for improvement in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Center for American Progress produces annual state fact sheets. The 2019 update includes information regarding:

    • Child care prices and the strain they put on family budgets
    • Gaps in child care funding and access
    • Wages for the child care workforce
    • The benefits of policies that would expand access to affordable child care and preschool

    Policymakers and advocates can use these fact sheets to identify their state’s greatest opportunities for improvement and to highlight the benefits of investing in high-quality early childhood programs.

    Trends and reflections

    The data in the 2019 fact sheets make clear that in every state, paying for child care continues to put a major strain on family budgets. On average, tuition for two children in child care costs nearly $20,000 per year, accounting for more than one-quarter of median family income. Even when families can afford care, it can be difficult to find. For the first time, this year’s fact sheets include data on the supply of child care in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Across the United States, more than half of the population lives in a child care desert; in several states, nearly two-thirds of people reside in such an area, where demand for child care outstrips supply.

    While Congress recently appropriated additional funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant—the main source of child care assistance for working families—subsidies reach only a fraction of the families that need support. In 43 states, fewer than 1 in 10 eligible children under the age of 6 receive child care subsidies, and only four states serve more than 12 percent of eligible young children. Subsidy payment rates also fall far short of the level needed to cover the cost of high-quality child care, especially for infants and toddlers. The fact sheets include estimates of the gap between the true cost of high-quality infant care and the current state subsidy rate, finding a gap of at least $7,000 per year in every state, with a gap in excess of $20,000 per year in seven states.

    With insufficient subsidy rates and families struggling to afford the price of child care, early childhood educators are often left to carry the burden of the broken child care market. In states where child care prices are lower, the data show that this comes at the expense of child care providers: The two states with the lowest child care prices, Mississippi and Alabama, also have the lowest average wage for child care educators. In no state does the median hourly wage for a child care worker exceed $13, and in three states the median wage is less than $9 per hour. Preschool teachers make slightly more, but even they make less than $15 per hour on average in 40 states.

    Opportunities for progress

    While some states have made progress through their proposed budgets or through promising legislation, most states have a long way to go. Comprehensive early learning policies such as capping the amount families pay for child care, implementing universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, and ensuring all eligible children receive child care subsidies would provide enormous benefits to families and state economies.

    The 2019 fact sheets listed below include information on the specific effect on each state if a comprehensive early childhood policy such as the Child Care for Working Families Act were passed. For example, the number of children who would be served by an expanded child care system would exceed 2 million in California; 1.8 million in Texas; and more than 1 million in both Florida and New York. Meanwhile, a family with two children making the median income would save more than $10,000 annually in almost every state, with annual savings of more than $25,000 in three states and the District of Columbia.

    Affordable child care and preschool are also good for state economies. Thirty-six states would see at least an estimated $1 billion in benefits from universally affordable child care, and 20 states would get at least that level of benefit from universal access to preschool. Data such as these can be used to make the case for investing in early learning programs, demonstrating the specific economic benefit that states would see as a result of investing in young children and working families.

    To see specific data for your state, please click on the links below.

    Steven Jessen-Howard is a research assistant for Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress. Simon Workman is the director of Early Childhood Policy at the Center.

    The authors would like to thank Nada Ahmed for her help with data collection; Rasheed Malik for his data analysis; and CAP’s Art team for designing and laying out the fact sheets.