Child Care Subsidies

Child care subsidies make quality child care more affordable, support the healthy development of children, and help low-income parents access the child care they need to go to work or to school to support their families. CLASP develops and promotes child care subsidy policies that expand access to assistance for low-income families, improve the quality of child care across settings, and help child care providers access the supports they need to provide high-quality care. We analyze state and national child care subsidy data to help advocates and policymakers better understand state policies and make the case for effective policies. For state child care assistance fact sheets, go to In the States.

Jun 14, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Federal Report: Child Care Workers in 32 States Earn Wages below Poverty Level—and Significantly Less than Head Start, Preschool, and Kindergarten Teachers

By Hannah Matthews

Today, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report detailing the low wages of the early care and education (ECE) workforce and the pay gap between ECE teachers and elementary school teachers.

Among early education practitioners nationally, child care workers in 2015 have the lowest wages with an annual median income of just $20,320—30 percent less than Head Start teachers and more than 60 percent less than kindergarten teachers.

In 32 states, median annual earnings for a child care worker are below the federal poverty level for a family of three, and in the remaining states earnings are below 150 percent of poverty. In 16 states, the annual median wage is less than $19,000. The highest annual median wage for a child care worker is just $25,450 in the state of New York.

Millions of families every day rely on child care workers for their children’s care and development. Central to supporting a child’s well-being and growth are the interactions children have with adults. Support for children’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development requires a set of skills and competencies – and as our understanding grows about the importance of early childhood development and how it can be enhanced by skilled and supportive teachers, we have begun to demand more of the early childhood workforce. Many state pre-kindergarten programs require lead teachers to have a Bachelor’s degree, and Head Start requires half of center-based teachers nationally to have a Bachelor’s degree (a milestone that Head Start has surpassed.) Yet, despite those standards, wage gaps between these teachers and their elementary-school peers persist—suggesting that increasing education standards alone is not sufficient to address wages.

In child care, staff qualifications are typically lower. States may have basic health and safety training requirements, but most do not require more than a high school diploma or less for lead teachers. Here too, our expectations for the child care workforce have grown. The recent reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) included increased standards for child care providers receiving CCDBG funds, and states have attempted to raise child care standards through various quality improvement standards, including Quality Rating and Improvement Systems and professional development strategies including scholarship programs. Despite good intentions, ultimately, these efforts are not at the scale needed to transform the quality of child care or elevate the skills of the child care workforce. Far more public investment would be necessary to do so and to compensate teachers appropriately. Increasing the cost of child care, however, to pay teachers higher wages is not realistic for the vast majority of families.  As it is, families pay an enormous share of their income—in many states surpassing the cost of public college tuition—to afford licensed child care.

Access to affordable, quality child care is central to working families and to the country. The key to child care quality is the providers who care for our youngest children. It’s time to recognize the value of these caregivers and their critical role in preparing our youngest for success in school and in life. When families are able to access quality child care, children are better prepared for success in life, and parents are more likely to succeed on the job as they gain peace of mind from knowing their child is well cared for and thriving. Together, these two goals are critical to our nation’s economic competitiveness now and in the future—and justify a bold national investment in child care.

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