Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Family Economic Security > Supporting the labor of early childhood professionals

Supporting the labor of early childhood professionals

Monday is the 125th Labor Day, a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of workers to our community. Arguably few contribute more to growth and development across the country than early childhood workers, primarily women.

Early childhood professionals are in positions to shape the values we want for our children and community: how to share and take turns, how to be safe with one another, and how to be kind. They can support parents through the complexities of raising a child and educate them on how to navigate children’s developmental changes. And we want them to keep our children safe and healthy.

Early childhood workers also contribute to Vermont’s current economic growth by allowing parents to work and add to the economy, and to future economic growth through scaffolding the important brain development young children need for future learning and economic productivity. Research continues to show the economic benefits of early childhood care, increasing long-term tax revenues and reducing transfer payments.

But despite this important role, and the hard work early childhood professionals dedicate every day to care for Vermont’s children, they are not being adequately compensated. Low wages are a detriment to our providers and to our community. They undermine the child/provider relationship with high turnover rates that mean many educators don’t stay in a position long enough to gain needed expertise in early childhood development and requiring children to adjust to new staff members too often.

The median salary of an early childhood worker in Vermont is $27,600. This is slightly more than 130 percent of poverty—just above the cutoff to qualify for food assistance, and just below the cutoff for Medicaid. Nearly half (46 percent) of providers depend on some public support to meet their families’ basic needs, based on a conservative national estimate.

It’s no surprise then that turnover in the early childhood field is high, and access to care is limited.

Nationally turnover is 13 percent for early childhood providers, compared to just 8 percent for K-12 educators, according to a 2018 report. A Chittenden County analysis by Child Care Resource found that 50 percent of staff in private pre-kindergarten education programs had been with the program for two years or less. With higher turnover comes lower quality care, less secure relationships between caregivers and kids, and lower levels of social development.

Thirty-five percent of Vermonters live in a child care desert: an area where there are not enough providers for the children in need of care. This is a continued challenge as Vermont loses in-home early childhood providers, with many leaving the profession for work in a different field. Increased capacity at childhood centers has offset some of this loss, but not for infants and toddlers, where every part of the state has lost spots over five and a half years. Availability of care in Vermont, or lack of it as is often the case, affects how much a parent works, limiting their economic stability and contributions.

In the hustle and bustle of back to school—snapping first-day-of-school pictures, adjusting to new drop-off routines, making it to work on time—Labor Day is a good time to stop and reflect on the important work these women do. Let’s remember them this week, and the rest of the legislative session, as we explore options to raise their wages so they receive adequate compensation and can continue this important work.

Posted by Julie Lowell on August 30, 2019 at 1:59 pm

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