The Multilayered Effects of Racism on Early Educators in California 

An Examination of Disparities in Wages, Leadership Roles, and Education

One of the greatest strengths of the early care and education (ECE) field is its diverse workforce. In California, about two-thirds of early educators are women of color, largely mirroring the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the children and families they serve. 

Despite the crucial role early educators play in young children’s development, the field has always struggled with poor compensation and inadequate support (McLean et al., 2021). The persistent undervaluation of the ECE sector and the labor provided by the nearly all-female workforce can be traced back to its racist roots, when enslaved Black women were forced to care for White children (Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, 2022a; Lloyd et al., 2021).

This report shows how racism continues to affect the ECE workforce. Racial disparities take many forms, from inequities in racial and ethnic representation across provider types and job roles to disparities in compensation. Black and Latina educators, for example, routinely experience lower wages than their peers. Asian and Black educators tend to hold higher levels of educational degrees compared to other groups, but their credentials do not necessarily lead to job advancement or higher pay.

Systemic racism is most often understood as a form of racism that is “pervasively and deeply embedded in systems, laws, written or unwritten policies, and entrenched practices and beliefs that produce, condone, and perpetuate widespread unfair treatment and oppression of people of color” (Braveman et al., 2022, p. 171). Yet, systemic racism also fosters an absence of systems or processes that provide recourse for discrimination or protection from inequities.

A transformed system could begin to repair the current injustices.

  • For example, if early care and education were treated as a public good, programs would be funded to reflect the true cost of care.
  • A salary scale driven by a combination of years of experience and education would reduce the vast pay gaps, especially between Black educators and their peers of other races and ethnicities with similar education and experience.
  •  Professional pathway programs and mentorship initiatives could be designed specifically to expand access to leadership roles for underrepresented communities. Efforts like apprenticeships, degree-completion programs, and fellowships have proven incredibly successful (Copeman Petig et al., 2019; Kipnis et al., 2012; Smith et al., 2023). However, such opportunities are not built into ECE systems, but are often pilots, demonstration projects, or very limited in reach (Malone et al., 2021).
  • Data to pinpoint disparities could track how or if they are reduced over time. North Carolina, for example, routinely funds robust data collection, but it is unclear if and how identified disparities are acted on (Child Care Services Association, 2020).

Suggested Citation

Kim, Y., Austin, L.J.E., & Hess, H. (2024). The Multilayered Effects of Racism on Early Educators in California: An Examination of Disparities in Wages, Leadership Roles, and Education. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley.