The 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index PDF is the first-ever comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of early childhood employment conditions and policies.


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.

How often is the Index updated?

The Index will be updated biennially. The next edition of the Index will be released in 2020, with subsequent iterations to follow every two years.

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, though we also include data on center directors where possible. 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 group 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) Standard Occupational Classification, 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. Directors are included under “Education Administrators, Preschool and Childcare Center/Program.”

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 2018 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.

  • Since the first Index was released in 2016, most reform efforts have focused on raising qualifications for early educators. However, limited attention to improving work environments and compensation impedes progress, hampering teacher practice, children’s learning opportunities, and the ability to recruit and retain a skilled ECE workforce.
  • Teacher economic insecurity remains common across the profession. This condition has persisted despite widespread recognition of the importance of early care and education in shaping children’s development, promoting the health of families, and building a strong economy.
  • Wages have been marked by uneven changes across the workforce. State-by-state data on earnings for the ECE workforce are available for three groups: child care workers, preschool teachers, and center administrators. More than half the states saw a decrease in preschool teacher and center director median wages when adjusted for inflation. Child care workers’ wages, on the other hand, have slightly increased.
  • States that raised their minimum wage between 2015 and 2017 were more likely to show wage increases for child care workers than those that had not.
  • Teachers with bachelor’s or graduate degrees can face a wage gap as high as $6 an hour, depending on their program’s funding source and sponsorship, compared to a maximum average wage gap of $4 for teachers with an associate degree or no degree.
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
  • A cross-state survey of state representatives (child care licensing/subsidy administrators, QRIS administrators, registry administrators, etc.).

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:

  • Ensure that all members of the current workforce have opportunities and supports to acquire education and training.
  • Develop workplace standards, such as guidance on appropriate levels of paid planning time, as well as compensation standards which are necessary for educators to engage in professional practice to support children’s development and learning and to alleviate conditions that cause educator stress.
  • Ensure that states have a workforce data system that allows for the identification of which policies are working effectively, and for whom, and which are not.
  • Estimate the cost of advancing preparation, workplace supports, and compensation of the workforce; articulate the cost gap between existing resources and what is required to accomplish reforms; and articulate phase-in plans to meet reforms, identify costs associated with each phase, and commit to securing dedicated, sustainable funds to realize reforms.
  • Develop a campaign to educate policymakers and the public at large about the importance of better pay in ensuring a skilled and stable early educator workforce and the positive, long lasting benefits to children.
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 on the territories?
The Index does not currently provide information on the territories, but may do so in future editions. Stay tuned!
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.
What is the suggested citation for the Index?
Whitebook, M., McLean, C., Austin, L.J.E., & Edwards, B. (2018). Early Childhood
Workforce Index – 2018
. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from