Low Child Care Wages and High Turnover Shortchange Pennsylvania Children: Findings from Surveys of Child Care Providers in Allegheny County, Southeast Pennsylvanian and York County

David Bradley
Publication Date: 
October 1, 2001

In the late 1990s, child care stakeholders created regional partnerships in Allegheny County (“Pathways for Early Education Professionals”), Southeast Pennsylvania (“Gateways SE. PA.”), and York County (“Focus on Our Future”). These partnerships formed as part of the “Gateways to Early Childhood Careers Initiative” launched by the Center for Career Development in Early Care and Education at Wheelock College in Boston.

In fall 2000 and spring 2001, the three Pennsylvania Gateways partnerships designed and distributed surveys to which 75 Allegheny county, 108 Southeast Pennsylvania, and 42 York County child care centers responded. In Southeast Pennsylvania, 120 home-based providers also responded to surveys. (Our home-based group includes group homes in which up to 12 children are cared for and family day-care homes with up to six children unrelated to the provider.) The Gateways surveys were conducted to measure key determinants of the quality of early care and education, including staff education, wages, benefits, and turnover rates.

This briefing paper summarizes the findings from the Gateways child care provider surveys. When possible, these findings are compared to those from 1998 surveys of child care providers conducted by the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC). Since the Gateways respondents represent a somewhat higher quality sample of child care providers, we would expect the Gateways surveys to reveal a more positive picture than the LBFC study – e.g., higher wages, more educated staff, lower turnover, and so on. In fact, the Gateways surveys reveal a situation that is unchanged or, for some variables, worse than in 1998.

Except where noted, in presenting results of the Gateways surveys of centers, we pooled responses from all three regions. We report results for center-based providers and home-based providers separately.

• Based on the Gateways surveys, only 23 percent of teachers and aides at child care centers have a bachelor’s degree today, down from 28 percent based on the 1998 LBFC survey. Since 1998, the share of center staff without a high-school diploma or GED has tripled from 1 percent to 3 percent.

• Annual turnover rates range from 50 percent for aides, to about 30 percent for teachers, to 14 percent for directors. Turnover rates are very similar to those found by the LBFC in its 1998 survey

• At child care centers, over two-thirds of aides, four in 10 teachers, and three in 10 directors have been at their current center less than two years.

• In child care centers, average hourly wages are $6.39 for aides, $7.27 for assistant teachers, and $9.30 for head teachers. At these wage levels, full-time child care teachers and aides earn between $13,000 and $19,400 annually. In home-based providers (both group and family day-care homes), main providers average $9.09 per hour, or about $19,000 annually; assistant providers earn an average of $6.99 per hour.

• Despite a strong economy, comparison with the LBFC study shows that child care wages did not increase from 1998 to 2001. In fact, average wages for teachers and aides as a group have fallen by more than 2 percent.

• Child care teachers and aides earn half or less of what other Pennsylvania workers earn who have the same amount of education.

• Even center directors in Pennsylvania, 80 percent of who have a college degree and nearly a quarter of who have a master’s degree, make only $27,000 per year. In all Pennsylvania industries, workers with
the same educational attainment as child care center directors earn an average of $45,115.

• Only about a fifth of center-based child care teachers are offered employer-subsidized health care for themselves and family members. Among 120 home-based providers, only five offered any kind of health

• In all three regions, child care centers with higher wages have lower turnover rates among teachers.

• “Accredited” Pennsylvania child care centers have salaries that are about 25 percent higher for directors (accredited child care centers have met quality standards defined by a professional association of early
educators). Higher salaries for directors may stabilize organizational leadership in ways that facilitate quality improvement and accreditation.

A consistent, educated, and experienced workforce is a key ingredient of any effort to provide quality early education and care to our youngest children. To improve staff retention, and maintain and improve the
education level of child care workers, Pennsylvania must make it possible for child care providers to raise compensation. One promising approach is a child care career ladder program in Washington state that
subsidizes providers that meet specified wage scales that rise with education and experience. A growing number of number of other states have also established programs to raise pay and subsidize health care
benefits in child care and early education. Pennsylvania should do the same.