When COVID-19 hit, the work of being a child-care teacher—already challenging and low paying—became even more demanding, dangerous, and emotionally challenging. Prior to the pandemic, teachers left child-care sites at extremely high rates (more than twice as high as those of K-12 teachers), and the pandemic has exacerbated this issue. Many media accounts document child-care sites’ loss of staff and difficulty hiring, particularly as wages in other sectors rise. Recent U.S. jobs data show that the child-care sector is still about 10% smaller than prior to the pandemic.
These staffing challenges have real implications for young children, who benefit from consistent relationships with the adults in their lives, and for the working families who rely on child care to do their jobs. In a recent survey of thousands of child-care providers, one-third reported having longer waitlists or being unable to open classrooms due to staffing challenges and one-quarter had to reduce their operating hours. Early in the pandemic, centers struggled to fill slots as families pulled their children out of care; more recently, parents returning to work are finding shut down centers and no slots available. These narratives are alarming, but because of a lack of systematic data in child care, it is unclear both how truly widespread these challenges are and how different conditions are compared to pre-pandemic times.
The American Rescue Plan and other federal COVID-19 relief funds included unprecedented investments in early care and education, acknowledging the need to address staffing issues. Many states are now experimenting with strategies to allocate these funds to teachers. Evaluating these initiatives provides a unique opportunity to both collect systematic child-care data to inform and refine efforts, and to learn how financial supports can best stabilize this workforce.
Read the full article about increasing compensation in early childhood work by Daphna Bassok, Anna J. Markowitz, Katherine Miller-Baines, and Isabelle Fares at Brookings.
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