March 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Early Learning’s Pay Gap | Editorial

We have a catch-22 in our child-care system. We depend on and say we value the people who care for our kids in their earliest years—in day-care centers and in home-based child care. We expect them to teach our kids in a kind, if not loving environment. Yet we, as a culture, do not prioritize this vast community of workers by providing them with decent pay and active training. Instead, as a June 2016 report painfully spells out, we trust they will deliver on all we expect while working for a pittance.

This persistent pay gap continues into the more formal learning of preschool and Head Start, too, as is further well documented in “High-Quality Early Learning Settings Depend on a High-Quality Workforce: Low Compensation Undermines Quality,” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education (PDF). The report, utilizing 2014 and 2015 data, makes the case for why this workforce is vital to support while providing a grim state-by-state tour regarding its pay.

One number is particularly devastating to consider: $20,320. That’s the median annual earnings in the United States for child-care teachers (see graphic below). As the report highlights, across the board, state by state, these workers earn less than the $26,124 eligibility cutoff for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for a family of three. Such subpar compensation has obvious personal implications, and it calls into question the ability to recruit and retain, and anticipate ongoing personal investment in training from this cohort of workers.

1607-Editorial-ChartWorkforceEarningAnyone who has spent time with little kids knows how challenging it is to look after them, keep them engaged, and help them learn rules for play and life. Anyone who has been in the company of day-care teachers can attest to witnessing a range of skills at work, including excellence, among the providers. The gaps, however, are significant, as reported by Education Week, including gaps in literacy skills. As seen in “When Librarians Teach Teachers” by SLJ contributing editor Linda Jacobson, libraries are stepping in to help foster skills in that cohort and connect them more effectively to parents, fostering a “trifecta of awesome” among the caregivers, parents, and librarians. It would be even more effective if that trio had strong skills across the board.

Education, training, and fair compensation go hand in hand. But parents can’t absorb the cost. As the “High Quality” report argues, an infusion of funding will be required to reinvent the system at work. I couldn’t agree more.

Excellence in early education at every level should be the standard. Our kids need it to be. These, their first teachers, are critical to the well-being and future success of our next generation. Supporting them with excellent pay and good training should become a top priority.


Rebecca T. Miller



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Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller ( is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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