A new report from the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation (Leadership Institute) at UMass Boston provides a detailed pre-pandemic snapshot of the early education workforce in Massachusetts. Authored by researchers from the Leadership Institute, the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, and the Center for Social Policy at UMass Boston, the report serves as a point of comparison in understanding the impact of the pandemic on the child care sector and contains valuable data that can inform policy discussions about early care and education now taking place at the local, state, and federal level.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that early care and education is a key piece of infrastructure for the economy. Parents need early care and education options that are high quality and affordable because when child care isn’t available, parents can’t work,” said Anne Douglass, PhD, professor and executive director of the Leadership Institute. “But as the sector grapples with the impact COVID-19 has had on the health and well-being of young children and staff as well as the financial viability of child care programs of all sizes, this survey shows that returning to pre-pandemic ways of doing business is not an option.”
The report, titled The Massachusetts Early Education and Care Workforce Survey 2019, confirms findings from numerous studies around the country showing that compensation for early educators is not commensurate with professional qualifications and societal contributions. But data from the new survey show the devastating consequences of low pay.
Two-thirds of center educators, who earn an average of $32,323 annually, and over half of center directors, who earn an average of $53,934 annually, and family child care providers, who earn an average of $46,488 annually, worry about their ability to pay their monthly bills. Nearly half from each group also worry about paying for health care, losing pay due to illness, and taking time off to care for family. Over 40 percent of center educators and one-quarter of Family Child Care providers report that they do not have enough money for food. Approximately three-quarters of the workforce worry about paying for retirement.
“Given how many early education professionals in Massachusetts worry about such basics as food, health care, and retirement, it is critical to address the economic security and sustainability of this professional, yet grossly underpaid, workforce largely comprised of women, many of whom are women of color,” said Christa Kelleher, PhD, Research and Policy Director, Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy.
“Early childhood education is the essential foundation for improving all levels of education,” said College of Education and Human Development Dean Joseph Berger. “I am proud of the ongoing leadership provided by the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation as they apply their exceptional expertise to improving quality and equity of early childhood education throughout the state and beyond.”
The survey also found that while there is considerable racial and linguistic diversity in the field, significant racial and linguistic disparities exist when it comes to child care center leadership. Among center directors, five percent identify as Hispanic/Latinx, four percent identify as Black or African American, and one percent identify as Asian. By contrast, among center educators and Family Child Care providers, 46.7 percent identify at Hispanic/Latinx, 22 percent identify at Black or African American, and nine percent as Asian.
“These findings must be taken into consideration when programs for leadership development and learning are created. Many leadership opportunities are created for and delivered to center directors and other administrative leaders which means that a majority of Black, African American, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian educators now working in the field are excluded from leadership development opportunities and career pathways,” Douglass added. “In this way, programs that are designed for leadership development may unintentionally reinforce these racial inequities. This is why it’s so important to build leadership pathways with racial equity in mind.”
The survey also identified the numerous strengths of the field which include passion for the work, support from colleagues, and professional expertise:
Leaders in the workforce draw on extensive teaching experience to do their work: 67 percent of center directors and 53 percent of Family Child Care providers have more than 16 years’ experience.
Nearly nine of 10 of center directors and educators say they feel “supported and encouraged” by their colleagues. Nearly nine of 10 center directors said that their “unique skills [were] valued and utilized at work” and 83 percent of center educators reported the same.
A majority of center directors (58%) and more than one-third of family child care providers (39%) and center educators (36%) wanted to earn a degree or attain a higher one if they already had a degree. A vast majority (94% of center directors, 87% of family child care providers, and 73.5%of center educators) engage in professional development and learning activities.
The survey also found that most early educators (73% of center directors, 72% of family child care providers, and 53% of center educators) said that they were “not likely” to leave their job in the next 12 months. But the most commonly cited reasons for a desire to leave the field were low pay and/or lack of benefits, job stress, and management of work/family balance.
The Massachusetts Early Education and Care Workforce Survey 2019 is based on a statewide survey completed by a representative sample of 1,356 respondents during the summer of 2019 who provided detailed answers to 75 questions about their employment, compensation, financial status, educational attainment, professional development, and demographic characteristics. The survey was funded and commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care.
Survey questions were based on findings from UMass Boston’s 2018 report, The Massachusetts Early Care and Education Workforce Study: Final Report Relevant to Survey Design, which focused on the strengths, challenges, and needs of the early education workforce through interviews with more than 70 experts from across the state.