Challenges for the Childcare Workforce

Earlier this month, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley released a report supporting what we already know—the childcare workforce is struggling. The Early Childhood Workforce Index sets a baseline to study trends in early childhood employment across states. This year’s findings will provide opportunity to track future progress.

The report separates the data into three sections: earnings and economic security, early childhood workforce policies, and income support policies across occupations. Each state was evaluated and assigned into one of three groups: stalled, edging forward, and making headway.

Nationally, childcare professionals earn a median wage of $9.77 per hour, placing them near the bottom percentile for all occupations. Additionally, almost one-half of the childcare workforce (46%), compared to 26% of the US workforce as a whole, are enrolled in at least one of four public assistance programs: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

The report explores early childhood workforce policies, which identify a state’s decisions about educator qualifications, earnings, and work environments to evaluate the competencies of the workforce.  Family and income support policies (paid sick and family leave, EITC, minimum wage, etc.) further evaluate supports in place, which will not only affect the childcare profession but other low-wage earning occupations.

In Iowa, more than 11,100 childcare professionals serve over 176,000 children under age five. Unfortunately, median wage is below the national average, at just $8.89 per hour, noted as a 6% decrease since 2010. Overall, Iowa is making progress only in three indicators under the early childhood workforce polices and two indicators in the family and income support policies.

Because in my previous life I advocated for the social work profession, I understand the challenges ahead to improve the childcare profession. It’s complicated. We must do more to pay livable wages yet not bankrupt families already struggling to afford childcare. We must make sure the workforce has the professional development to increase their skills and, eventually, improve quality care. We need to increase the perceived value of the profession.

The researchers identify opportunities to improve the workforce. Their recommendations take a holistic approach that addresses each of the following components: financial resources to support professional development and wage supports; efficient workforce data; quality improvement to assure programs have efficient resources to meet certain criteria, and qualification criteria for the workforce.

Moving forward, the report will be a great baseline to assess improvements within the profession. One thing, however, remains evident—to make improvements we need to invest and commit to make change.

Our state and federal candidates running are engaging Iowa voters to learn more about important issues affecting our communities. Take the opportunity to talk with them, educate them, and ask, “What actions will you take to support the childcare system so children have access to high-quality early learning opportunities and the providers caring for our kids are not forced into a life of poverty?”


Kelli Soyer, MSW, LMSW


Every Child Matters in Iowa