From Bad to Worse: Distress in the Childcare Workforce

From Bad to Worse: Distress in the Childcare Workforce

By Dr. Judy Temple

February 9th, 2021

The childcare workforce in the U.S., already burdened by low pay, has been severely impacted by the pandemic as shown by employment data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But even before the pandemic, there were significant concerns about the high cost of childcare and the low incomes earned by providers. A 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences stated that the ECE workforce was in extreme distress. The report described the pre-pandemic system of funding early care and education as “neither sustainable or adequate to provide the quality of care and learning that children and families need – a shortfall that further perpetuates and drives inequality.”

We need to improve upon this unsustainable, inadequate system. The Biden administration has proposed a sizeable infusion of spending nationwide to help stabilize the childcare industry to preserve the availability of childcare slots and limit income and employment losses. Child development experts have identified key elements of high-quality early care and education that can ultimately help contribute to kindergarten readiness yet even before the pandemic working parents struggled to afford care even with federal or state subsidies. Employees in this sector earning the lowest wages are those without a college degree, who disproportionately tend to be women of color.

While it makes sense that the childcare industry is procyclical with employment rising and falling with the business cycle, allowing childcare providers to close for good may imperil our economic recovery. Working parents will find it even harder than before to find good affordable care and good quality early learning opportunities. Policy efforts are needed to improve supply and reduce employee turnover by providing higher wages. The National Academies report cited above is of central importance in this endeavor.

Before the pandemic, I wrote this piece for the School’s Gender Policy Report. My brief report ended with this recommendation, which may be of greater importance now: As we attend to the need to improve early childhood education and care, policymakers and advocates must also attend to the need for a well-paid, low-turnover, professional workforce of providers. When ECE providers can make a living doing highly valued work, they can make a difference for American kids.

By: Judy A. Temple