Connecticut is falling behind on paying competitive wages, workforce policies, and family and income support initiatives, according to the Early Childhood Workforce Index, the first-ever comprehensive state-by-state analysis of early childhood employment conditions and policies.
The index shows that in Connecticut the median hourly wage for child care workers at the end of 2015, the last year of measureable data, was $10.77, which is a 7 percent decrease from 2010.
Preschool teachers fared somewhat better with a median hourly wage of $15.20, but this too is a decrease from 2010, and they still earn less than elementary school teachers, according to a new report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.
A June report by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services found Connecticut is one of 13 states where preschool teachers earn less than 50 percent of the annual wages earned by Kindergarten teachers.
The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment found there are 14,400 members of the early childhood teaching workforce providing services to 229,027 children age birth through five years. Seventy-one percent of these children live in households where all available parents are currently working, and 17 percent of all Connecticut children are part of low-income families.
Merrill Gay, executive director of the CT Early Childhood Alliance, said the statistics are sobering, especially considering the state of Connecticut’s current bleak budget situation.
“Obviously the big challenge is the state budget,’’ Gay said. “Right now there are two conflicting goals — trying to save money and making an important public investment in the development of our children.”
In 2014, the General Assembly created the Office of Early Childhood and expanded public preschool programs with about $10 million in bonding and another $10 million from the Tobacco Settlement Fund.
But state revenues have not met projections and federal funding requirements have changed, forcing the state to reprioritize the funding these programs receive.
“The real challenge here is that for a family with two children under 5 paying the market rate for childcare that will very likely exceed their rent or mortgage payment,” Gay said.
According to a report from the United Way, child care is “out of reach for families earning less than about $65,000 a year. While Connecticut is a rich state, an awful lot of families with children under 5 don’t earn that much,” Gay said. “In tough budget times there are lots of hard decisions that have to be made. Not spending on early childhood is short-sighted and deprives children of the strong foundation of their future learning.”
Gay continued: “The impending closure of the Care4kids program packs a double punch. Families who need care in order to work won’t be able to get it, meaning that parents will be in the awful situation of choosing poverty by not working or putting their children into affordable but unregulated and potentially dangerous care so that they can work.”
Late last month the Office of Early Childhood announced that the 4,450 families currently receiving a subsidy under the Care4Kids program will get to keep their subsidy. However, the program is closed to most new families seeking assistance.
Low income families, who have not used the program, will not be able to receive assistance starting on Aug. 1.
The changes were necessary, according to the Office of Early Childhood, to address a projected $33 million shortfall as a result of new federal requirements that increase the cost of care per child.