Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress takes a deep dive into the early childhood workforce’s dismally low wages and reveals that African American full-time teachers make 84 cents for every $1 earned by their white counterparts. For a white teacher earning $13.86 per hour, her African American colleague might make $366 less per month and $4,395 less per year, on average. When controlling for educational backgrounds, years of experience, and employment characteristics—such as program type and the ages of children being served—the wage gap between African American and white full-time teachers is reduced to roughly 93 cents on the dollar, still a meaningful difference in a workforce that makes less than $30,000 per year, on average. More than 95 percent of the early childhood 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.”
Compared with the broader labor force, as well as with K-12 teachers, women of color are overrepresented in the early childhood workforce, particularly in unlisted home-based care positions. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African American workers make up 17 percent of the center-based workforce, 16 percent of the listed home-based workforce, and 22 percent of the unlisted home-based workforce. Meanwhile, Hispanic workers constitute 14 percent of the center-based workforce, 16 percent of the listed home-based workforce, and 21 percent of the unlisted home-based workforce. Examining race and ethnicity by type of position and program, however, CAP found that fewer African American and Hispanic workers are found in roles that require more advanced credentials and provide higher wages. This is consistent with previous research, which also finds that the proportion of people of color is even lower among supervisory roles such as center directors and program administrators.
CAP’s report underscores that efforts to improve the quality of early childhood programs without addressing teachers’ low wages and stressful working conditions are unlikely to be successful or bring about the long-term benefits and return on investment associated with high-quality programs. Demand for highly skilled early educators will only continue to rise as programs expand, and it is critical that policymakers take steps to increase compensation and benefits in kind. However, policymakers also must work to promote a diverse and culturally competent workforce at all levels, from aides to center leadership—which means ensuring that standards and regulations do not serve to reinforce existing systemic barriers to education, training, and career advancement.
The report offers specific recommendations that policymakers can take to improve compensation and benefits, including enhancing scholarships and supports to teachers seeking degrees, creating wage parity, and increasing wages in the next Head Start reauthorization at the federal level. The report also recommends increasing center directors’ access to professional development and training that facilitate conversations about race and culture and providing tools to manage implicit biases in the workplace.
Click here to read “Underpaid and Unequal: Racial Wage Disparities in the Early Childhood Workforce” by Rebecca Ullrich, Katie Hamm, and Rachel Herzfeldt-Kamprath.
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