Improving the Economic Security of DC’s Early Care and Education Workforce

Too many of the professionals who care for our youngest children live in poverty because of low wages. Not only is this challenging for people in a demanding job, it’s bad for children because it leads to high turnover and a stressed child care workforce. Improving the wages of workers in DC’s child care settings should be a top priority for the city.

Nationally, nearly half of child care workers rely on public assistance such as SNAP, Medicaid, or TANF benefits, according to recent research, and the story in DC is the same. Our report on child care providers in DC, Solid Footing, highlighted low compensation that does not match the credentials of child care workers.

Offering high-quality education and development options for our youngest children – those between birth and age three – can make all the difference for their school readiness and health outcomes later in life. Increasing payments to providers who serve children in DC’s child care subsidy program is one critical step to making sure workers are well paid and that child care quality is high. With low reimbursements, providers simply struggle to have enough revenue to pay a living wage.

But, that alone may not lead to a better paid workforce. One way DC can improve retention and recruitment of quality ECE staff by supplementing salaries for early care and education staff in community-based settings. A Child Care Salary Supplement Program could contribute to higher quality early care and education by:

  • Supplementing low wages that most ECE programs pay their staff, making it more economically viable to stay in the field and increasing the appeal of the field to new talent.
  • Increasing retention by requiring participants to commit to an additional period of time (6 months to a year) in their position.
  • Increasing education levels of the ECE workforce by linking supplements to educational attainment and/or continued professional development.

There are several models that could inform this work. For example, in Illinois, an early care and education worker is eligible for a pay supplement if they earn $15 an hour or less, have been in the program at least one year, and work at least 15 hours per week. In Pennsylvania, child care facilities meeting certain performance standards can receive grants to fund staff bonuses and continuing education. Supplements range from a low of $200 to $500 per year to a high of $1,500 to $6,250 a year for administrators with advanced experience and education.

We hope the District will take a look at these models as a starting point to develop and sustain a program specific to the needs and challenges of the District’s ECE workforce.