Child Care Workforce Study Reveals Large, Educated Workforce

Nov 21, 2013

By Stephanie Schmit

In 2012, the early care and education workforce consisted of about one million caregivers in center-based programs, one million paid home-based caregivers and about 2.7 million unpaid home-based caregivers.         

The success of children in both center-based and home-based care relies heavily on the interactions with their caregivers. Many young children spend time in a weekly non-parental care arrangement--46 percent of children under age one, 54 percent of children ages 1-2, and 76 percent of children ages 3-5. Additionally, many of these children spend a substantial number of hours in their weekly arrangement thus making the role of the caregiver all the more important to ensuring that children are in safe, high-quality environments where they can grow and thrive.

Until now, a lack of nationally representative information on the child care workforce has left many to speculate about the educational attainment and other characteristics of those who are caring for our country's youngest children. The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the US Department of Health and Human Services recently released the first in a series of briefs as part of the National Survey of Early Care and Education project that sheds some light on the characteristics of the early care and education workforce across the country.

Some findings in the brief come as a welcome surprise. The survey found more than half (53 percent) of center-based caregivers have an associate's or bachelor's degree--nearly a third reported a BA or graduate/professional degrees. For home-based caregivers, about 30 percent reported college degrees. These proportions are higher than some in the field previously suspected. The findings suggest that attention to educational credentials in the early childhood field has gotten traction and raised the credentials of the workforce. 

Low wages for early care and education teachers and caregivers have been a persistent problem, and this report underscores that. The median hourly wage for all center-based caregivers directly responsible for children from birth through five years was $10.60 in 2012 or roughly $22,000 a year (if employed full-time), which is just shy of the federal poverty level for a family of four in 2012 ($23,050). Of course, this varies tremendously based on educational attainment and funding source of individual centers. In order to ensure that a qualified, educated workforce can be retained to maintain quality and continuity of care and to ensure that caregivers are able to support themselves and their own families, increased compensation is paramount. Approximately 75 percent of caregivers in all settings evaluated in the study reported having some form of health insurance, although not necessarily through their employer. Given the low wages of the workforce, the Affordable Care Act provides new opportunities for those uninsured to access affordable health care coverage.

The more information that is available, the more informed policy decisions can be. This nationally representative sample provides a clear picture of the current workforce and allows for more effective strategizing about the needs of the workforce and the children they serve. Utilizing this information to ensure the child care workforce is on a positive trajectory is crucial to the success of the field, of children, and their families. 

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