By Christa Anders, Coordinator, B8 Early Childhood Workforce Team
Minnesota’s early childhood educators are “the workforce behind the workforce.” These women, and a few men, who care for young children so that their parents can go to work, are literally the foundation for the economic vitality of our state as well as the key for building a strong base for educational success for many of Minnesota’s children. The early childhood workforce – made up of teachers, assistant teachers, aides, family home providers, early childhood family educators and others who work in child care centers, public schools, Head Start and family homes, is an industry and workforce of its own. There are estimated to be over 40,000 early childhood educators in Minnesota caring for over half a million children. Over the next 10 years, we will need an additional 55,000 early childhood educators.
The current economic model of child care is profoundly broken and not sustainable. We ask parents to pay directly for most of the cost of care at a time in their job life and careers when their earning power is the lowest. The early childhood workforce, overwhelmingly women and including high numbers of women of color, basically bears the brunt of the burden and earns abysmally low wages so that parents can go to work and businesses can have employees. This is unfair and inequitable. An early childhood degree is the lowest paid bachelor’s degree you can earn in the United States. The median hourly wage for child care is only $11.44.
There is very little payoff to educational investment. Early childhood educators with a bachelor’s degree earn a median wage of $15.60 two years after college graduation or $32,500 per year. This is almost $10,000 lower than other college graduates in Minnesota who earn, on average, $41,392 two years after college graduation.
Turnover for the early childhood workforce is higher than most other industries in Minnesota. Turnover is hard on center directors and parents but it takes the biggest toll on children who need to form strong attachments to caregivers. Minnesota spends $43 million per year providing public assistance to early childhood educators. Many of them worry about putting a roof over their families’ heads and food on the table for their own children.
What we do to support the early childhood workforce today directly translates to supporting our workforce, citizenry and future leaders. Investing in and supporting the early childhood workforce will yield positive results down the road and will position Minnesota to better support the healthy development of all of our children.
So how will Minnesota develop the 55,000 new early childhood educators we need? It is very difficult to encourage people to go into the early childhood field because the wages are abysmally low. We need to figure out how to recruit and retain new early childhood educators by supporting higher education and increasing compensation. Currently, many areas of the state qualify as “child care deserts” and the crisis is particularly acute in Greater Minnesota but is also an issue in urban areas where culturally and linguistically diverse children are not getting the quality start they need to thrive. We have reached a crisis point in Minnesota and need multiple strategies across multiple agencies and organizations in order to persuade young people that a career in early childhood is a viable option for them.
Fortunately, we do not have to develop solutions in a vacuum. The National Academies of Sciences, Medicine and Engineering issued a series of consensus study reports with recommendations to transform the early childhood workforce and the financing structures. Minnesota has an independent workgroup, the B8 (Birth to age 8) Early Childhood Workforce Team, which is a partnership of public and private stakeholders working to develop a Minnesota specific plan to implement some of the recommendations from the National Academies reports. More information about Minnesota’s work can be found online at www.ecworkforcemn.org. In a nutshell, we want to create a unified higher education system for early childhood, provide quality field placements, develop an accessible and affordable system for people to earn degrees in early childhood, use data to make decisions and ensure that this work has a backbone organization that can oversee and implement the recommendations. We also have a subcommittee that is working specifically on increasing compensation. This team is looking to increase supports so that early childhood educators can attain appropriate degrees, credentials and business supports including tax credits.
Ensuring that Minnesota has qualified, diverse, supported and fairly compensated early childhood educators will require considerable time and resources. But is very possible as long as we have the collective willpower to ensure that educators have the training they need to provide high quality services to families and wages that are fair and reflect the value of the immensely important work that they are doing. We encourage you to learn more about this work, get involved and reach out to policymakers and your legislators.