Analysis of Data From The Bureau of Labor Statistics About Early Educator Compensation
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data about every occupation and also makes predictions about the economic future of that occupation. This post will give an overview and analysis of some of the data they collected related to the occupations of preschool teacher, child care workers, and preschool and child care center directors. All the data is from 2017 which is the latest data available.
The median pay for preschool teachers is $28,990 per year and $13.94 per hour.
The median pay for child care workers is $22,290 per year $10.72 per hour.
The median pay of preschool and child care center directors is $46,890 per year and $22.54 per hour
This is no disrespect to cashiers who also deserve a living wage, but it is completely ridiculous that the pay of early educators is closer to that of a cashier than teachers in the older grades. It is no wonder that half of child care workers receive welfare benefits.
Research shows that birth through five is the most important years in a humans development.
Why are people in early education paid so much less than K-12 educators? I postulate that the biggest reasons are student/teacher ratios, lack of unions, and societal perceptions. Lets look at rations first. For correct reasons, there need to be more teachers in a preschool/toddler/infant room than older grades. So let’s say a third grade teacher has 20 students by themselves and they make 65 thousand. You can’t safely have 20 three year-olds to one teacher. A preschool room needs 3 teachers to safely have 20 students and let’s say those 3 salaries combined up to 80 thousand that means one teacher makes around 35 thousand, the other 25 thousand, and the other 20 thousand. For infants and toddlers the ratio of adults needed relative to students is even higher so the younger the children the lower the pay for teachers which is the inverse of what we know about when the most brain development happens.
The issue of unions is also an important one. Most K-12 educators are unionized unlike early educators where only a tiny fraction are unionized. K-12 unions have the institutional knowledge and power to fight for better wages. However, even with some recent victories of K-12 teacher unions such as West Virginia, even K-12 public school teachers salaries are not doing great; “public school teachers’ weekly wages in 2015 were 17% lower than those of comparable workers—compared to just 1.8% lower in 1994 “
While I think unionizing would help early educators bargain for better salary and benefits, there is an even bigger macro issue we must change. The work of early educators is still considered glorified babysitting by many and generally not respected by American society. The hourly pay for preschool teachers in Denmark is 116 Danish Krone which translates to about $18 U.S. dollars an hour. Still not great, but about 4 dollars an hour more than the United States. Other Scandinavian countries where early childhood education is values more have similar higher pay. We need to change how much society values early childhood education in order to increase pay and due to the aforementioned issues related to ratios that means government at the local, state, and federal level investing more in ECE.
There is another macro issue related to salaries that must be highlighted. About 95 percent of early educators are women and there is a gender pay gap in the United States.
Low pay is one of the key factors that leads to high turn over rate for early educators which we know leads to lower quality.
Even with these low salaries, the amount of early educators is expected to increase. There are currently 478,500 preschool teachers in the country and the Bureau of Labor projects that will increase to 528,600 by 2026. Similarly, there are currently 1,216,600 childcare workers and that number is projected to go up to 1,300,900 by 2026. Both of those projections are a higher percentage of growth than the average job. Those numbers combined are nearly two million early educators and that is not even including kindergarten teachers. If we continue to have a system of low paid early educators, we will continue to see experienced and educated early educators leave the field for greener pastures. We will continue to see high turn over. We will continue to see early educators working multiple jobs with financial stress which all leads to lesser quality experiences for our youngest children during the most important time in their development.
Whitney was right, but the data from the Bureau of Labor statistics shows that our society is currently not willing to invest in young children the people who teach them so what does that say for our future?