Index 2016 Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Early Childhood Workforce Index?

The 2016 Early Childhood Workforce Index is the first-ever comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of early childhood employment conditions and policies. The full report is accompanied by a cross-state, interactive map and individual state profiles.

What is the purpose of the Early Childhood Workforce Index?

Nationwide, the teachers and caregivers who make up the early childhood workforce are struggling to get by on low wages and face insufficient workplace supports. Without transforming policies that shape how we prepare, support, and pay early educators, the 21st-century goal of quality early learning opportunities for all children will remain elusive.

The Index provides state-level appraisals of early childhood workforce conditions and policies based on measurable indicators in order to encourage advocates and policymakers to step up their efforts to address persistent challenges facing the early childhood workforce. Subsequent iterations of the Index in 2018 and beyond will provide the opportunity to identify trends and track progress in the states over time.

Why is the 2016 Index referred to as a “baseline” appraisal?

The 2016 Early Childhood Workforce Index represents the first effort to provide a description of early childhood employment conditions and policies on a state-by-state basis for all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The Index will be updated biennially. The next edition of the Index will be released in 2018, with subsequent iterations to follow every two years.

Additionally, state policy appraisals in the Index do not represent optimal policy and practice. Instead, the measurable indicators included in the Index serve as steps toward reducing the inequity, inefficiency, and ineffectiveness that characterize the current status of preparation, support, and pay for early educators in every state.

Who is included in the early childhood workforce?

The Index focuses primarily on those who work in teaching and caregiving roles serving children prior to kindergarten. We also compare the status of early educators to those teaching older children in order to highlight disparities within the birth-to-age-eight spectrum.

A wide variety of terms are used to refer to the early childhood sector and its workforce depending on the age of children served, the location of the service, auspice and funding streams, job roles, and data sources. We use “early childhood workforce” or “early educators” to encompass all those who work directly with young children for pay in early care and education settings in roles focused on teaching and caregiving.

We use more specific labels, such as “Head Start teacher” or “home care provider” when we are referring to a particular type of setting. In some cases, we are limited by the labels used in a particular data source. For example, we sometimes refer to “childcare workers” or “preschool teachers” when citing data specific to subcategories of the workforce as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

What’s the difference between child care workers and preschool teachers?

Child care workers and preschool teachers are occupational groupings defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which collects data on all occupations in the United States. This government agency is currently the only source of comparable data on the early childhood workforce across all 50 states.

The BLS defines “childcare workers” as those who “attend to children at schools, businesses, private households, and childcare institutions” and “perform a variety of tasks, such as dressing, feeding bathing, and overseeing play,” while “preschool teachers” are those who “instruct preschool children in activities designed to promote social, physical, and intellectual growth needed for primary school in preschool, day care center, or other child development facility.”

Preschool teachers are a more narrowly defined group of people working in school- or center-based facilities (not homes) with children before kindergarten, usually three- to four-year-olds. Child care workers is more of a catchall term for people who are not classified as preschool teachers but care for and educate children in home- and center-based settings while their parents are working. Child care workers may work with infants and toddlers, three- and four-year-olds, or school-age children. Neither of these categories include the self-employed nor do they include directors or other leadership.

These definitions do not adequately reflect distinctions in settings and roles among early educators, and as a result, there have been calls to revise the classifications. For more information, see: Workgroup on the Early Childhood Workforce and Professional Development (2016). Proposed Revisions to the Definitions for the Early Childhood Workforce in the Standard Occupational Classification: White paper commissioned by the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OPRE Report 2016-45). Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

What are the key findings from the 2016 Index?

Early educators’ skills, knowledge, and well-being are inseparable from the quality of children’s early learning experiences, yet states are currently failing to provide the combination of appropriate compensation, professional work environments, and training that teachers need to help children succeed.

Early educators are among the lowest-paid workers in the country.

  • As of 2015, the median hourly wages for child care workers range from $8.72 in Mississippi to $12.24 in New York. Nationwide, the median wage is $9.77.
  • Preschool teachers fare somewhat better: wages range from $10.54 in Idaho to $19.21 in Louisiana.
  • In contrast, the median national wage for kindergarten teachers is $24.83.
  • Nearly one-half of child care workers (46 percent), compared to 26 percent of the U.S. workforce, are part of families that participate in at least one public assistance program, such as Medicaid or food stamps.

While there is scientific consensus that early childhood education is central to shaping children’s lifelong knowledge and skills, the 50 states and Washington, D.C., fall short on a number of measurable indicators within their early childhood workforce policies.

  • Only 17 states have policies or programs in place to address the problem of low wages for early educators, and they still fall severely short.
  • Just 11 states set a minimum requirement for some early educators working outside the public pre-K system that includes demonstration of foundational knowledge by earning a national Child Development Associate Credential or participation in vocational education, and only Georgia and Vermont have this requirement for both center- and home-based providers.
  • Of the 44 states (including the District of Columbia) with public pre-K programs, only 23 require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for all lead pre-K teachers.

In addition to qualifications and compensation, the Index identifies three other categories of state policy that are critical to improving early care and education: work environments; public resources available for child care services; and a database to identify and track the characteristics of the workforce. Not one of the 50 states or Washington, D.C., is making significant progress in all five policy categories. Twenty-three states are making progress in only one category.

What is the source of data for the Index?

There is no comprehensive, longitudinal data source for tracking the early childhood workforce in its entirety across the United States nor is there a single source of comprehensive information about early childhood workforce policies across all 50 states. The Index compiles information from a wide variety of sources, including:

  • Three major national surveys: the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the Current Population Survey (CPS), and the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE);
  • 50-state databases and reports specific to the early childhood field, such as the NIEER Preschool Yearbook and the Quality Rating and Improvement Systems Compendium;
  • 50-state databases and reports on family and income support policies from research and policy organizations, such as the National Women’s Law Center, the Economic Policy Institute, and the National Conference of State Legislatures;
  • A cross-state scan of early care and education agency websites and communication with state representatives.

For information on the data source for each indicator included in the state profiles, see our Guide to Indicators.

What are your recommendations for improving early childhood workforce policy?

The Index outlines a number of concrete steps that policymakers and other stakeholders can take at the state and federal levels to ensure a high-quality, affordable early care and education system, including:

  • Advancing the preparation of the workforce by establishing minimum educational requirements, developing well-defined career pathways, and ensuring that all members of the current workforce have access to foundational and advanced training and education;
  • Establishing work environment standards to reduce stressful conditions and promote effective teaching necessary for supporting children’s optimal development and learning;
  • Implementing compensation and benefit guidelines for entry-level to teacher leadership positions, in line with education, training, and experience, with the stated intention of raising the current wage floor and achieving parity with the K-12 education system;
  • Developing a comprehensive, up-to-date workforce data system to gain a meaningful assessment of the reach and effectiveness of education and training opportunities and other supports for the workforce; and
  • Committing financial resources to invest in the above recommendations.
How do I find information on my state?

For a full breakdown of how your state measures up on each indicator, see our State Profiles.

How does my state compare to other states?

The Early Childhood Workforce Index does not formally rank states because even those states making the most progress still have much work to do to improve early childhood jobs.

Rather than rank states from best to worst, we group states into three broad categories based on how well they are doing along a series of measurable indicators for state policies specific to the early childhood field as well as broader policies intended to support working families.

  • Red represents stalled: the state has made limited or no progress;
  • Yellow represents edging forward: the state has made partial progress;
  • Green represents making headway: the state is taking action and advancing promising policies.

See our Interactive Map to compare your state to other states for each policy category.

Does the Index provide information at the city or county level?

The Index is a state-by-state assessment of early childhood employment conditions and policies. It does not systematically track or report policies and practices at the local level, although notable local efforts to improve the preparation, support, and compensation of the early childhood workforce are highlighted in the Index where possible.

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