The Early Care & Education Workforce
The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, with partners, began surveying childcare providers in 2020 to understand the state of the early care and education sector in Louisiana, including the current issues facing providers. After these surveys and subsequent work specifically focused on the early childhood industry and workforce, LPIC administered a survey in Spring 2023 for childcare staff, focusing on the compensation and experiences of childcare employees in Louisiana.
These survey results provide a comprehensive view of the early care and education workforce. The first in this series of survey results will highlight who makes up our childcare workforce, as well as the real conditions and feelings they experience. These findings highlight a stark reality about the early care and education sector. While the individuals who care for and educate young children in Louisiana are overwhelmingly educated and credentialed, the average rate of pay in the sector is insufficient to support them, especially if they choose to have children of their own. As a result, one-third of early care and education staff are thinking of quitting their jobs.
The Louisiana economy depends upon a stable early care and education sector. Studies show Louisiana loses $1.3 billion a year in economic activity and Louisiana businesses lose over $760 million a year due to child care breakdowns alone. The Louisiana childcare sector is in a precarious condition. Provider surveys show that over two-thirds of childcare providers worry about short- and long-term staff turnover. This compensation survey validates that concern — one-third of ECE staff are considering quitting, despite caring deeply about their work. The primary cause of this staff instability is wages.
Most parents and policymakers do not understand the early care and education business model. The cost of private tuition and publicly funded child care programs is high per child, relative to a family’s budget, and that is what most parents and policymakers see. However, that high rate does not translate to high wages for the employees who work in the field. Cost modeling shows that providing quality care to young children is expensive for businesses in terms of staffing costs, overhead like rent or mortgage payments, food, and supplies. Our most recent provider survey also showed that business costs like insurance have also begun rising dramatically, with two-thirds of providers reporting premiums going up. The average premium increase in 2023 was almost $17,000 per business.
As noted in Professional Wages for Professional Educators: Recommendations for Improving Early Childhood Workforce Compensation in Louisiana, increasing wages for early care and education professionals will do more than just aid workers’ bank accounts:
Competitive wages can increase staff retention, which in turn support long-term quality improvements and directly benefit the young children in their care.In addition to educational benefits for children, increased wages for early care and education staff translate to gains for the larger economy. When individuals earn higher wages they are more likely to increase their spending, contributing to additional economic benefit for the state and local communities. At its current pay rates, the early care and education industry generates approximately $241 million in employee compensation and owner earnings, which supports an additional $130.8 million in earnings across the state. Higher wages in early care and education will boost earnings across the economy. Further, research shows raising incomes for low-wage workers prompts increased tax collections along with the higher income for the worker.
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Louisiana cannot continue to rely only on childcare workers’ affinity for their work to sustain them in their jobs, especially if they have a family of their own to support. The early care and education sector rose to meet the state’s quality expectations; it is time Louisiana recognized these professionals as the highly skilled and educated workforce that they are and compensated them accordingly.
In the K-12 system, schools and teachers are funded by several revenue sources at the local, state, and federal levels. In the early care and education system, the majority of revenue comes from a private source: parents paying tuition. In Louisiana, the number of publicly funded childcare seats is significantly smaller than the seats supported only by that private source. However, parents cannot afford to pay more — a 2023 study shows that almost half of Louisiana parents worry about being able to afford their present child care at all.
If Louisiana is to maintain the quality early care and education system it has created, it must ensure its workforce can stay in the field it is educated for, experienced in, and loves. To do that will require additional funding streams at the local, state, and federal levels to supplement parent payments. Options for increased funding include:
- Utilizing the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund to continue leveraging state and local dollars together. The Fund has several sources of revenue, but some do not generate money. State lawmakers should evaluate these funding sources and maximize their value;
- Diversifying federal investments to support increased funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant, the Preschool Development Grant, Head Start and Early Head Start, and the Child Care Means Parents In School programs; and
- Exploring options for regional taxation bodies to allow cities, parishes, and school districts to collaborate on local solutions for increased early care and education funding.