It’s Time We Gave Early Childhood Educators Some Real Love

kids hugging on playground

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Virtual and in-person socially distanced classrooms exchanged warm feelings and kind messages all across the country. You might have even given your child’s educator a hot cocoa mix with heart-shaped marshmallows in a Valentine’s Day-themed mug. Early childhood educators are grateful for warm feelings, kind messages and sentimental gifts. They are important to your family, but what they could really use this Valentine’s Day is better pay and benefits.

COVID-19 has shown our country what we at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) have always known—the child care workforce keeps our economy running. Yet, early childhood educators continue to earn low wages despite the important work they do for our children. Science shows a child’s brain develops the fastest in their earliest years, setting a foundation for all future learning, including school readiness and school success.

Statewide, the early childhood teacher earns an average of $12.00 per hour, the center director earns an average of $19.23 per hour and the family child care provider earns an average of $9.09 per hour, according to the 2019 study, Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina. These are pre-pandemic wages.

Additionally, the study found that 39% of teachers and 37% of assistant teachers reported receiving some type of public assistance in the past three years (e.g., Medicaid, SNAP, TANF and/or child care subsidy).

Benefits are also important, particularly health coverage, as the country continues to face the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, child care centers, which comprise the largest sector within the child care market, are the least likely to offer health coverage (18%) and pay the lowest wages, and 16% of family child care providers have no health insurance from any source.

We expect our early childhood educators to continue earning low wages and barely any benefits as they care for and educate our children so our country can recover from this pandemic. Isn’t it time to change this? We can’t let our early childhood educators get left behind, or worse, leave the field entirely.

It’s time for a commitment to increase child care educator wages. It’s time we gave them some real love.