New Study on Early Childhood Education: Between a Rock and Hard Place

King County’s youngest people, their families, and their educators are all suffering from our regions’ child-care crisis.

Rock-hard-place-graphic-1-620x563In this report, we shine a spotlight on early childhood education in King County, which is increasingly the most expensive in the nation.  Although child care can cost over $10,000 a year per child, the typical child care worker in King County earns poverty-level wages between $23,000 and $29,000 dollars per year. Insurance, rent, taxes, staff-to-child ratios, inadequate subsidy rates, and supplies make providing child care in our region extremely costly, and leaving little for workers.

Numerous studies show that low wages are one of the most significant factors contributing to high turnover in early educators. In King County, roughly 38% of teaching assistants are no longer in their positions just one year later. High turnover harms the stability and relationships our children need during their early developmental stages, disrupts the already rapidly changing child care environments, and costs child care centers significant resources to find high quality staff.

Key Findings

Early childhood education is unaffordable for many parents.

Market-rate, full time infant care at a child care center in King County costs parents on average $1,445 per month, roughly 52% of the median income of a single female parent in King County.  Child care subsidies are not sufficient to meet the high need, and high costs, parents at low and middle incomes must pay.

Early childhood providers operate on slim margins, forcing teachers and assistants to make low wages.

The typical family home provider in King County earns $35,000 in gross annual earnings. After taxes, supplies and overhead – family home providers have minimal means to pay staff, let alone make ends meet.  Centers typically employ more staff, but typically have higher overhead costs including insurance, rent, and fixtures. Combined with low staff-to-child ratios, there is little room to raise wages.

Low wages encourage high turnover, impacting the quality of care.

High turnover among teaching staff negatively impacts the quality of care a program can provide and affects children’s social-emotional and language development.  According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at University of California, Berkeley, turnover discourages the development and maintenance of consistent relationships between children and their caregivers.