Preschool = prosperity = ... poverty?

This week, I read a New America Foundation blog post on a recent report by the Government Accountability Office examining wages and credentials in the early childhood education industry. Having worked in the industry myself, I had a general idea of what the findings would say – that early childhood teachers are underpaid. I braced myself for hearing this finding for the hundredth time.

I should have braced myself more. Not only are our preschool teachers and early childhood education workers underpaid, they are making poverty-level wages. Nationally, the report found that the majority of early childhood workers earned less than $22,000 a year in 2009. The federal poverty line is $22,000 for a family of four.
Appalled, I explored the wages of child care workers here in D.C. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, here in D.C. preschool teachers (teachers working in a preschool, day care center, or other child development facility) earn on average $32,890 a year. Child care workers (those who attend to children at schools, businesses, private households, and childcare institutions) only make on average $23,990 a year in the metropolitan area.

These wages are far below what is takes to achieve economic security in D.C. According to Wider Opportunity for Women’s Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST), a single worker (no children) in D.C. needs to earn $31,656 to achieve basic economic security, while a single worker with one preschooler and one school-age child needs $85,680.

Like most early childhood educators, I didn’t want to become a preschool teacher “just because I liked kids,” which I often felt like people thought. Through my studies, I learned just how critical the early years of a child’s life are. I wanted to make a positive, long-lasting effect to help set children up for success and provide meaningful experiences for them that they might not get at home. In my opinion, this is one of the most important professions out there and the best way to develop a prosperous economy.

These workers care for people in the most important years of their lives – and are nearly living in poverty? Am I the only person who sees something wrong here ?

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