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Top-Down, Bottom-Up: Building a State Child Care Center Workforce

The pandemic exposed the cracks and fissures in our nation’s child care industry and highlighted the unfortunate reality that child care, an essential service crucial to our nation’s economic viability, relies on one of the most poorly supported workforces in the country. Child care is a labor-intensive industry, and labor costs make up 70–80% of a typical program’s operating budget. Businesses operate on razor thin margins in a private market, resulting in high costs for parents, low revenue for child care programs, and low wages for staff. Programs across the country are struggling to retain their workers. Lack of access to competency-based training and educational programs limit opportunities for staff and teachers to build knowledge and skills, while low wages and insufficient benefits lead to instability and turnover. There is a gap between what parents can pay and the cost to provide child care at a level that meets the needs of children, families, staff, and the economy.

The child care workforce tops 2 million; about 1.4 million work in centers, and 600,000 are home-based providers. One in seven child care staff (14.7%) lives in families with income below the poverty line, roughly double (6.7%) the rate of workers in other occupations, and 1 in 3 child care staff (36.7%) lives in families with income below twice the poverty line, compared with 21.1% of workers in other occupations. The median hourly wage is $13.71 per hour. Only 15% of the child care workforce receives health insurance from their job, compared with about 50% of workers in other occupations.

There is a key role, a person who has the capacity to lead child care workforce transformation, but who universally goes unrecognized when we look only to federal solutions: the state child care administrator.

This report details a comprehensive 10-step approach for states to develop a competent and stable workforce. There is no silver bullet. All the steps are important, and administrators should work on many at the same time. Child care is ultimately a local issue with national repercussions. Each state has a unique landscape that will drive different processes and policies along the journey to a strong and stable child care workforce.

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