“It’s long past time that we increase our investment in early childhood education and childcare if we are going to address the inequality issue in a systemic way.”
Those words came from UNITE-LA CEO David Rattray, as he discussed a new report from UNITE-LA and the L.A. Partnership for Early Childhood Investment which called for creating standards, establishing occupational pathways, and increasing wages across the early childhood education workforce.
The situation in Los Angeles County has not nearly been meeting the needs of the children from birth to kindergarten. The current workforce of 34,000 mostly low paid workers is half the number that is needed to serve the 440,000 children in that age group in L.A. County.
“It’s an embarrassment that a childcare worker often has to go to a food bank to feed their own children,” said Tonia McMillian, chair of the Early Childhood Master Plan Workforce Committee and is a child care provider. “We need an incentive for workers to expand their education and improve their own situations.”
While the report highlighted the situation in Los Angeles County, the findings would be similar across California. In fact, the issue of greater investment in early childhood education was an issue raised at last year’s California Economic Summit.
“How do we improve early childhood education and childcare to make sure that all of our young people have an opportunity to achieve the California Dream?” asked Kate Roberts, president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership. It’s going to take an investment — and as this study shows — it’s an investment that can pay off not only socially but economically.
The report argues that, if you paid the workers at a professional level, it would benefit the economy as well as help children and their families.
The current California early childhood workforce is not well paid by any measurement. Teaching assistants make less than $15,000 per year, childcare workers are just over $20,000 and the average preschool teacher earns under $26,000 a year.
There are few avenues that exist for early childhood education workers to pursue professional development.
But the report states if you created public funding streams that would formalize the childcare sector, create occupational pathways for existing childcare workers and increase pay at early childhood education centers for qualified workers — you would make a significant economic impact.
“You improve the socioeconomic well-being of existing workers, put more money in the underserved communities where they live, encourage new spending across multiple sectors and expand local government revenue by attracting new workers,” said Dr. Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, the firm that conducted the study. “It would yield a 1.9 multiplier effect for every dollar spent on ECE worker wages.”
In a webinar last week, the negative impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency over the last year could not be ignored. It has made a bad situation worse. Much of the conversation centered around the critical importance of rebuilding our childcare system in the wake of COVID.
“Two million women left the workforce last year, most of whom were Black, brown and Asian, because they were overwhelmed by employment/unemployment, managing schoolwork, and not having childcare,” said Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove of Los Angeles. “Childcare is a backbone investment that we must prioritize if we are going to give working families a chance at survival. As a working mother in the legislature, this is my most pressing agenda item.”
California is already one of the worst states for poverty in the nation–driven by our high housing costs. This fact, plus the low salaries in the sector hamper recruiting, training and retention in the workplace. The early child education workforce needs a tremendous infusion of workers — and it needs it now.
“This important research shows conclusively that when we invest more in our early childhood workforce everyone benefits — our children, their families, the workers and our county’s economy,” said Parker Blackman, executive director of the LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment. “We have undervalued these workers for far too long. As we reopen our economy, starting with childcare and early childhood centers, we must begin to pay workers and the small-business owners who run these centers a fair and professional wage that reflects their qualifications and the important role they play in ensuring children are prepared for school.”
The full report, which can be seen here, concludes that a lack of workers in the early childhood education sector is a problem, along with how much they are paid. By creating standards and expanding training programs for workers in the field, we can enlarge the available workforce by creating pathways.
“The economic multipliers in the short term and long term can increase economic activity and reduce the need for public services, which will help reduce inequality and create more investment in low-income neighborhoods,” said UNITE-LA’s Rattray.
By taking care of the caretakers, he added, “we are not only doing the right thing, but we are also doing the smart thing.”
UNITE-LA recently joined CA FWD’s growing California Stewardship Network, a group of organizations from across the state that are dedicated improving government and creating inclusive, sustainable growth in every region.