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White House Spotlights Wage Gap for Child-Care Workers

Child-care workers could earn the same amount of money—or more—sweeping floors or cutting hair as they do taking care of young children, says a new from the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services

The early-childhood workforce's critical role in child-development doesn't match up with that low pay, says the report issued Tuesday and intended to highlight wage disparities. But the pay early educators get doesn't reflect that, federal officials say.

"Undervaluing the nation's early-childhood educators flies in the face of what we know about brain development and the optimal time for learning," U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a statement. "This report is a call to action for all of us."  

The report, "High-Quality Early Learning Settings Depend on a High Quality Workforce," was released in conjunction with the first United State of Women Summit on Tuesday, which was convened by the White House Council on Women and Girls. Ninety-seven percent of the early-childhood workforce is female.

In addition drawing attention to the low pay of child-care workers, the report also shows how different a woman's salary might be depending on where she works, as seen in the graphic below.

For example, a preschool teacher's median salary in 2015 was $28,570, just over half of the median kindergarten teacher salary that year of $51,640.  (Preschool teacher salaries vary by setting, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not draw a distinction between, for example, preschool teachers in state-run programs compared to private preschool teachers.) 

Some of that disparity is due to differing education levels—a kindergarten teacher is far more likely to have a college degree than a child-care worker. But education doesn't explain all the difference. For example, some of the gap is connected simply to where a teacher works. A teacher with a bachelor's degree in a public school-sponsored preschool earns $6.70 an hour more in median wages than a teacher with the same education level in a community-based program. That's a nearly $14,000 per year difference. 

Digging Deeper Into Early-Childhood Wage Disparities

The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank in Washington, released its own report studying wage disparities to coincide with the White House event. "Quality Jobs, Quality Child Care" offers some evidence that white early-childhood educators are paid more, on average, than their black, Hispanic or Asian counterparts. 

As with wage disparities more generally, some of the difference could be tied to education levels: White early educators are more likely to have a bachelor's degree compared to black, Hispanic, or Asian early educators, said Halley Potter, an author of the report.

But white educators reported earning more money than their minority peers even when both groups have a college education. White early educators with a college degree reported an average hourly wage of $17.19, compared to $15.98 reported by early educators of color who had a college degree.

The foundation drew the figures from the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education.  The report said that while the sample is nationally representative, not enough educators were included to know if the different wages reported are statistically significant. 

The Century Foundation said that policymakers need to be mindful of the potential for racial wage gaps as they seek to professionalize the workforce. Some state efforts, such as  promoting alternative certifications and supporting educators as they return to school, can help create a diverse and well-paid workforce, the report says. 

Related stories:

 for the latest news on policies, practices, and trends in early childhood education. 

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