Highly educated… undercompensated

It has been my privilege to serve Wisconsin Early Childhood Association for the past 14 years. Our organization works to promote the critical importance of the child care profession and strengthen investments in the teachers who provide vital care and education to children from over 72% of Wisconsin’s families each day.

Child care professionals struggle against common misperceptions of their work.  Over time, I have heard variations on the following theme: “Child care providers are really just babysitters, aren’t they? Therefore, their compensation seems right in line, yes?”

Well, no.

In early July Wisconsin Early Childhood Association released a comprehensive study of early childhood teachers in Wisconsin. (Our last study was in 2010). The findings will make for some very different conversations.

Take for example the education level of child care teachers. More than half – 52% – have an Associate degree or higher. This is more than the Wisconsin workforce in general in which 42% hold an Associate degree or higher.2  The education level of child care teachers has a considerable effect on the quality of teaching and on outcomes for our youngest children. Higher education at even greater levels for the early childhood profession is essential.
College graduateYet, there’s an unexplained pay gap. Wisconsinites with an Associate degree who work in fields other than early care and education can expect to earn $18/hour on average. However, degree-holders in early care and education can expect pay which averages $10/hour.  Annualized, child care teachers earn $17,000 less than other Wisconsinites with an Associates degree. The gap grows wider when comparing those in the field who hold a Bachelor’s degree  – $12/hour – versus those who hold that degree and work in another field – $22.80/hour. Annually, the child care teacher with the Bachelor’s degree earns fully $22,500 LESS.

Often I hear, “Well child care teachers don’t go into the field for money. They do the work because they love children.”  It’s a perception not unique to Wisconsin. A recent article in the New York Times described a conversation between a child care provider in New Mexico and a legislator she visited at the state Capitol to lobby for education funding:

“She remembered meeting with a senator who told her, ‘You don’t get into this for the money; you’re paid in love.’ ‘Really?’ she replied. ‘When my landlord comes, can I just give him a hug?’

  1. COWS, State of Working Wisconsin 2014 http://www.cows.org

Ruth Schmidt is Executive Director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association and a registered lobbyist.

Worthy Work? What is the premium for educational attainment in the early childhood field?

A new National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine publication suggests that it’s time for practices and policies regarding the early care and education of young children to catch up with the science of early brain development.  The Academy’s call is urgent and the publication seeks to transform the workforce. It includes a recommendation that all lead teachers working with children from birth through age eight have a Bachelor’s degree.  (Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8:  A Unifying Foundation)

If you’re thinking that would be quite a stretch, you’re right… but perhaps not by as much as you think.  According to a 2013 brief entitled “Number and Characteristics of Early Care and Education Teachers and Caregivers: Initial Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education,” more than half (53%) of child care center classroom teachers and caregivers had some level of college experience, with one-quarter (26%) having a four-year degree, a significant increase over the previous survey (2009-2010). I make less than...

The problem.  There is a major disconnect between educational attainment and compensation of the early childhood education workforce.  Unlike most professions, how much one earns in the early childhood field depends very little on one’s education.  Instead, variations in earnings depend on the age of the children and the auspice under which one works: the older the child, the more you make; and if you’re part of the public education system you make more than in Head Start, where you make more than in a child care center. It is an irrational wage structure that leaves many dedicated professionals and millions of children short-changed.

The original National Child Care Staffing Study (1989) was the first to document the link between education of caregivers and quality of care.  This study also found that wages were a key predictor of quality because low wages fueled high turnover. Yet current public policy aimed at improving quality still fails to link advances in education with improved compensation for the early childhood workforce.

Despite an explosion of knowledge about the importance of the early years, the average wage of a childcare center-based teacher ($10.60 per hour nationally), is less than those who care for our animals or as noted by Wisconsin childcare teacher, Andrea Tallacksen, who holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, less than those handling our bags at the airport – a job with no educational requirements!  (According to Delta Airlines, baggage handlers earn on average $13/hour.  Payscale.com reports the average pay of baggage handlers at $12.08/hour).

What now? Transforming this workforce begins by re-opening the conversation of compensation parity with educators of older children, revisiting public policies that fiscally undervalue the work of early childhood education, and recruiting new partners in the struggle for economic justice.

Reflecting and Acting: Worthy Wage Day-May 1, 2015

Reflecting and Acting: Worthy Wage Day-May 1, 2015

Since its inception in 1992, Worthy Wage Day has been a time to raise public awareness of the low wages earned by early childhood educators and the negative effects it has on young children.

WECA has always been involved in this grass-roots campaign-advocating on behalf of the child care workforce. Recently, WECA released Starting Early, Starting Now: Investing in Teachers to Grow Child Care Quality. This report addresses the need for fundamental changes in how child care is financed in Wisconsin.

We sent this report to all members of the Wisconsin State Legislature. WECA staff met with members of the Joint Finance Committee to discuss the value of investing in early childhood education and the necessity for a worthy wage for this workforce.

Soon, WECA along with the Center on Wisconsin Strategy will conduct an early childhood workforce study. It will examine providers’ educational levels, experience, job satisfaction, turnover, retention, and compensation. It will also study why child care providers leave this field and where they go.

Worthy Wage Day depends on child care providers sharing what the impact of earning a low wage has on themselves individually, their families, and the children they care for. Here then, are perspectives from the field.

Andrea Tallacksen“I have been working in the child care field for 14 years and while I have a college degree, I make significantly less than almost all of my peers with a degree. It can be very depressing to know that I work in a field that I love and know is incredibly important, but I make less than someone handling bags at the airport. I handle something way more important every day. We need to have those in power, those who make decisions about how money is allocated, to recognize the importance of high quality child care and decent compensation.”
-Andrea Tallacksen, infant/toddler teacher at Woods Hollow Children’s Center.

Joan Klinkner“I was fortunate to have a husband with a good paying job, or else I wouldn’t have been able to work as a child care teacher and raise our two daughters. I would like to believe that things have changed, but I still hear the same kind of comments from the general public. These comments show a lack of recognition for the importance of the work of early childhood teachers as well as lack of appreciation for the difficulty of the work. We need to strengthen and reinvigorate our efforts to advocate for the child care workforce.”
-Joan Klinkner, former child care teacher, instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

Annette Wilburn“I have always served low-income families who are eligible for Wisconsin Shares. Yet, my work situation has changed in the last five years. I had to downsize my business and make changes in my life due to the limited income I was able to earn as a family child care provider. I will not give up the fight for what has become my passion. And I have been praying. If we providers today had a mind set to change things like in the past we could work together for change.”
-Annette Wilburn, licensed family child care provider in Milwaukee.

Speak Out Now!

There are many opportunities for Wisconsin child care providers to raise awareness on Worthy Wage Day. Social media can be a prime avenue to use. Here are a few suggestions on what you can do today to help raise awareness of worthy wages for worthy work:

1. Become a Forward for Kids Advocate. Receive email updates on additional advocating opportunities and become a voice for early childhood education.

2. Participate in the #WorthyWages Twitter Storm-Friday, May 1st Noon-1:00 pm.

3. Not on Twitter? Extend the storm on Facebook. Write a post, share your story, or start a discussion on your profile about Worthy Wage Day. Social media has become a strong communication tool. Let’s use it to our advantage.

Low Wages for Child Care Workers

This week a Wall Street Journal blog, “The Juggle,” featured a thought provoking entry about how critical high-quality child care workers are and how poorly they are compensated for their work. “The Lowly Child-Care Worker” by Sue Shellenbarger reveals that a recent study by CareerCast.com compared 200 occupations (based on things like wages, working environment, and stress) and ranked child care workers in the 186th spot. She also mentions that “Child-care center directors’ median annual pay is only $34,233, according to Payscale.com, and child-care workers themselves make only $23,437, barely exceeding the federal poverty threshold for a family of four.” Read the full article here.

For anyone familiar with, or working in, the field of early education, this article is not surprising. The low wages reported are, in fact, very similar to the wages we recently found in a 2010 Wisconsin child care workforce study. According to the study, current median annual wages in the field are: $29,751 for center directors, $23,608 for group child care teachers, and $21,060 for family child care providers. Read the full workforce study brief here.

What do you think about wages in the early education field? Can they be increased by charging parents/families more or must there be other sources of funding (more public investment, more businesses that open child care facilities for their employees with private dollars)?

Survey of Wisconsin’s Early Care and Education Workforce

We at WECA have teamed up with the Public Policy Forum to conduct a statewide early childhood workforce study. The survey will examine the early childhood workforce in terms of wages, retention, education, benefits, and longevity. If you receive a survey in the mail, PLEASE consider filling it out (you can do it online as well) – your responses are completely anonymous and IMPORTANT! We plan to use the analysis to educate policymakers and the community on the state of the early childhood workforce, considering how it has changed over the years, and how the state can better meet your needs.

NOTE: During last week’s mailing process, the address lists were accidentally switched. Family child care providers and group center directors were sent the wrong version of the survey. The correct versions were mailed out today- please be on the lookout for them. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused and eagerly look forward to your responses.

WECA and Public Policy Forum to Study the Child Care Workforce

WECA will be partnering with the Public Policy Forum in Milwaukee to conduct a statewide early childhood workforce study later this year. Later this year, we will distribute a survey to early education professionals across Wisconsin (Be on the lookout in your mailbox!) to examine provider wages, retention, education, benefits, and longevity. Target survey recipients will cover a broad spectrum of the workforce to include professionals at family child care programs (certified and licensed), child care centers, 4 year old kindergarten programs, and Head Start/Early Head Start facilities. Results will be made available to the public early next year.

The last time a comprehensive workforce study of this nature was conducted was in 2001. In the future, we hope to obtain information from professionals more frequently to keep workforce statistics current and relevant.