Connecticut, along with the rest of the nation, has much work to do if it wants to increase the pay of its early childhood workforce.
That’s according to an annual report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, which tracks conditions and industry pay in all 50 states.
“Parents can’t afford quality childcare; educators are struggling to support their families on extremely low wages; and states are failing to provide the combination of appropriate compensation, professional work environments, and training teachers need to help children succeed,” the report concluded.
The pay for women of color working in early childhood education is even worse.
“Even after controlling for educational attainment, African-American early educators still earn 78 cents per hour less than the white counterparts,” the report found.
Connecticut was one of the states closely studied and the news isn’t good.
It found that the average hourly wage for a Connecticut child care worker is $11.87. In comparison, the average pre-school teacher in Connecticut earns $16.58 an hour; center director $24.71; kindergarten teacher $43.90; elementary teacher $22.05.
A total of 15,860 people in Connecticut are members of the early childhood workforce, according to the report. However, that number doesn’t include in-home childcare workers or self-employed childcare workers.
One of those child care workers is Ingrid Henlen, who works in Hartford.
Henlen said she works a part-time job in addition to her child care work to “try and pay the bills.”
“I can’t afford the things I need,” Henlen said, who added that she’s “still paying a student loan that never seems to end.”
Henlen said that taking care of young children is “hard work intellectually, emotionally and physically” but added that she loves her job.
For decades the center has been studying the early childhood workforce and has found that those who teach and care for the nation’s youngest children — predominantly women — are often struggling to support their families because of low pay while facing widespread workplace challenges.
Although strides have been made in improving education and training levels of this workforce, they are largely not linked to policies and resources that address teachers’ economic well-being, CSCCE officials said.
“The time for reform is long overdue,” said Marcy Whitebook, a workforce specialist at the Center for the Study of Early Child Care Employment, and one of the authors of the report.
She termed the problem an “early childhood education crisis,” adding that it needs to be addressed well before any election cycle brings the issue to the forefront.
“This is primarily a female workforce struggling here,” Whitebook said, adding that much of that workforce was also minority.
She said studies show that, across the country, 86 percent of child care workers earn less than $15 an hour and that 60 percent earn less than $10.10 an hour.
Whitebook added that Wednesday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME that says government workers who choose not to join a union cannot be charged a fee for the cost of collective bargaining, is another setback for child care workers. She said child care workers belonging to unions made significantly more than those who don’t.
The authors of the child care report added that nationwide 63 percent of children under the age of 3 are in some sort of child care outside of their homes.
The index states that in Connecticut, 74 percent of children live in households where all available parents are currently working and 20 percent of all Connecticut children are part of low-income families.
One of those who discussed the release of the index on Wednesday was Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, vice-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee.
“The state deficit and the growing income disparity in Connecticut has led to underfunding of programs,” said Bye, who added that “you can’t miss these (child care workers) are the lowest wage workers in our nation and it’s a female dominated workforce.”
Bye called the workforce index findings a “call to action” for her fellow legislators, adding that “all the policy rhetoric doesn’t match the investment.”
“It’s just not fair,” Bye said. “I like to say to my colleagues that talk is cheap.”
The report says there are things state governments can do to improve conditions for the early childhood workforce and support for workers in general.
“Low wages and lack of access to core services and benefits (e.g. health care, paid leave) — is rampant for many families and workers in the United States, not only those who work in the early childhood field,” the report says.
It says improving those supports like paid family medical leave would greatly improve the conditions for the industry.
It also suggested an increase in the minimum wage would help, since many of the workers in this industry work for wages far below $15 an hour.
Connecticut’s legislature did not increase its minimum wage this year. It’s currently $10.10 an hour.
The report also suggested a refundable, state-based childcare tax credit as a way to improve the situation for these workers.
“Forty-two percent of center-based teaching staff have at least one child under 13 years old in their household, and about one quarter have at least one child five years old or younger, yet the earnings of much of the early childhood workforce are too low to afford early education and care services for their own children,” the report found.