Low pay, lack of resources: State report finds early childhood workforce in crisis

LANSING—Michigan’s early childhood workforce issues have reached crisis levels, according to a new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy, Kids Count in Michigan and Think Babies Michigan.

Due to poor compensation, little room for advancement, a lack of public resources and more, staffing shortages in the child care sector as well as in Michigan’s home visiting and Early On programs mean families are unable to find high-quality care for their children. The report, titled Confronting Michigan’s Early Childhood Workforce Crisis, points out these and other concerns.

“This is a crisis that is deep and that has become chronic,” said Monique Stanton, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Early childhood is a crucial time—a time when children’s brains are developing faster than any other time in life—but our system doesn’t reflect that. The care and education of infants, toddlers and their families is often underprioritized, and the workers that provide care for these little Michiganders are woefully undercompensated. We know that early intervention and care equate to benefits not only for children and their families, but for the state economy as a whole. It’s past time for Michigan to address this problem.”

According to the report, several factors contribute to the crisis, but worker pay is among the biggest. Eight out of 10 child care centers identified wages as their main challenge in recruiting new workers, and home visiting programs reported that their biggest barriers to serving families include limited funding for staff.

“The low wages for early childhood workers are endemic,” said Ericka Taylor, executive director of early childhood at the Saginaw Intermediate School District. “For example, child care workers are among the lowest earners in Michigan, with a median wage of $11.13 per hour. Many of them rely on public assistance to make ends meet, and nearly one in five child care workers lives below the poverty line. The low wages are resulting in major staffing turnover, as high as 30%. Recruiting new staff with that level of pay is a huge challenge. As co-chair of the Think Babies Michigan workgroup, we are committed to putting recommendations into action, thereby improving the lives of our babies while also making sure those who work with them are adequately prepared and paid to do so.”

The report recommends that the state improve its data collection on the early childhood workforce, develop a strategy to improve the pay for workers and create a career pipeline that increases chances for training, credentialing and career advancement.

“Altogether, what we’re seeing is a real lack of value for these workers who give so much to take care of Michigan’s youngest residents,” Stanton said. “From the low wages to the lack of advancement opportunities and public investments, an essential sector of Michigan’s workforce is being left behind.”

The report was created as part of the Think Babies Michigan Collaborative, which is funded by the Pritzker Early Childhood Fund, and builds on the work of the collaborative’s cross-sector workforce workgroup report.

The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on opportunity for all. Its mission is to advance economic security, racial equity, health and well-being for all people in Michigan through policy change. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

The Kids Count in Michigan project, https://mlpp.org/kids-count/, is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families. Funding for the project is provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Michigan Education Association, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, Ruth Mott Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, DTE Energy Foundation, Ford Motor Company Fund and the Battle Creek Community Foundation. More state and local data are available at the Kids Count Data Center, www.datacenter.kidscount.org.

Think Babies Michigan, https://www.ecic4kids.org/policy-thinkbabiesmi/, is a prenatal-to-age-3 policy collaborative of nearly 1,900 parents, advocates and organizations across the state working to make Michigan a top state to have a baby and raise a child. The statewide initiative is supported by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative.

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