Download Report



Child care is an essential support for parents’ full participation in the economy, education, and training, and for children’s growth and development into healthy and well-adjusted adults. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset, however, high-quality and affordable child care was already out of reach for many families, and availability has dramatically worsened since. Child care centers are reporting great difficulties with recruiting and retaining staff, not least because child care workers are reportedly choosing to move to higher- paying jobs in other sectors, such as retail, in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic disruptions.

This policy brief draws on data analysis of the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) 2019 workforce survey to analyze the pay and work conditions of child care center workers leading up to the pandemic.

Research Highlights

  • Child care center workers earned just $12.00 an hour in 2019, less than two thirds (62.7 percent) of the median hourly wage of all workers.
  • While racial and ethnic earnings disparities declined between 2012 and 2019, Black child care center workers earned a median hourly wage of just $10.89 in 2019 compared to $12.00 for all child care center workers.
  • The median hourly wage for child care center workers with bachelor’s degrees (22.5 percent of workers) was just $15.00 an hour in 2019, less than half (48.1 percent) of the median hourly wage of all workers with a bachelor’s degree ($31.20).
  • One in four (23.9 percent) child care center workers has children under six years old, yet their wages are too low to afford center-based care for their own children; the average cost of center care for an infant would consume 63.7 percent of the annual income of someone working full-time, year-round and earning the median hourly wage for child care center workers.
  • Stress and low pay affect the well-being of child care center workers. Nearly one in ten (9.3 percent) child care center workers was flagged for potential major depressive disorder.