“Early Learning in the United States”: 2018 Fact Sheets

early learning in the united states

The Center for American Progress has released its 2018 fact sheets profiling early childhood education needs and costs for each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Each fact sheet includes information regarding both family needs and the state’s coverage of those needs.

The fact sheets divide the information into three categories: the Current Situation, How the State is Falling Short, and Opportunities. Each fact sheet includes the same text describing each category:

  • The Current Situation: Child care and preschool are necessities for working families, but the high price of care puts them out of reach for most. Parents are faced with impossible choices and are left weaving together a patchwork of care or making career sacrifices that affect their families’ economic security. [State] needs to increase public investment in order to make affordable, high-quality child care and preschool a reality for families and providers.
  • How [State] is Falling Short: Existing early learning supports are inadequate. Child care subsidies do not cover the cost of high-quality care, and they fail to reach the majority of those in need. State preschool programs are underfunded and rarely provide universal access for 3- and 4-year-olds. The limited revenues available to early learning programs leave the early childhood workforce woefully underpaid and restrict access to high-quality care to only the highest-income families.
  • Opportunities: Expanding the child care subsidy system to cover all low- and middle- income families and providing universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds are two critical steps [State] can take to support working families. Increasing public investment in the early learning system in this way would lead to substantial benefits for children, families, and the broader state economy.

However, the data within each category provides a clear image of the needs within each state as well as the differences between states. Under The Current Situation, the sheets list:

  • The number of children in the state under six years old
  • The percent of children under 6 with all available parents in the workforce
  • The average annual child care tuition for two children
  • The percent of median income the average family spends on child care for two children
  • The percent of summer income the average family spends on summer child care
  • The number of parents making career sacrifices due to issues with child care

Under How [State] is Falling Short, the data includes:

  • The percent of children in low-income families that receive child care subsidies
  • The percent of 4-year-olds served by public preschool
  • The gap between the true cost of high-quality infant care and the current subsidy rate
  • The percent of income the median family would pay to cover the true cost of high-quality child care for two children
  • The median hourly wage for child care workers
  • The edian hourly wage for preschool teachers

Finally, under Opportunities, the data includes:

  • The number of young children that would be served by an expanded child care subsidy system
  • The average annual family savings if child care costs were capped at 7 percent of family income, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s definition of affordable child care expenses.
  • The estimated annual state economic benefit of affordable child care (in millions)
  • The estimated annual state economic benefit of universal preschool (in millions)

There are clear differences between the states:

  • In North Dakota, only 13 percent of four-year-olds are served by public preschool, while in Oklahoma, 84 percent of four-year-olds are served.
  • In the District of Columbia, the average family earning median income and with two children would have to spend 55 percent of their income on child care, while in neighboring Maryland, such a family would spend only 27 percent of their income.
  • Nearly 21 percent of children in low-income families receive child care subsidies in New York, versus only 5.4 percent in Nevada.

Given these disparities, and the funding gaps overall, the findings are stark.

Most states’ policies fall short of providing the investment necessary to make affordable, high-quality early learning programs a reality for working families. On average, states provide child care subsidies to less than 1 in 7 children in low-income families, and these subsidies only cover a fraction of the cost of providing high-quality child care. This causes workers to struggle as well; the average child care employee in every state makes less than $13 per hour.

CAP hopes that state policymakers and advocates will use the fact sheets “to identify their state’s opportunities for improvement and to highlight the importance of enacting policies that support young children’s learning, families’ economic security, and state economies.”

(Note: To understand how hard it is for policymakers to find an overall picture of early childhood education data in their state, see our earlier piece Many States Lack Integrated Early Childhood Education Data Systems.)

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