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Black workers, mothers leaving early education and child care jobs amid health risks, low pay

Anna Crockett and Xiaohan Zhang
This article is the second in a series about the COVID-19 pandemic and the early care and education (ECE) workforce. Part 1

While early care and education (ECE) is far from the only industry to have experienced tumult in the last two years, its impact on the economy is unique and makes it worthy of examination. In our previous article, we discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the size of the ECE industry’s workforce. In this article, we aim to shed light on the race and parental status of the workers who were more likely to leave the ECE industry and how working conditions have changed for those who remain. These differences can help policymakers better understand the challenges facing the industry and how to best allocate a recent influx of federal funds for ECE.

We analyze Current Population Survey data to study the changes in demographics, earnings and health of center-based ECE teachers.[1] In addition, we present the same information on K–8 teachers to show a more complete picture of the child education profession.[2]

We found that, compared with the prepandemic period:

  • ECE teachers are less racially diverse and are less likely to be mothers of young and school-age children.
  • Those who stayed in the ECE industry had higher health risks but only a small pay increase.
  • None of these effects are found among K–8 teachers.

Disruptions like teacher turnover and center closures can negatively affect child learning outcomes as well as parental employment outcomes, especially for low- and moderate-income families. Understanding which teachers were likelier to leave the industry and the factors that could have influenced their decision to leave, such as wages and health outcomes, are at the heart of this study.

Who left the ECE industry and who stayed?

We begin our analysis by examining the race and ethnicity of those who left the ECE industry and those who stayed. While the workforce lost teachers of all races and ethnicities during the pandemic, the rates at which they left were uneven. The share of Black workers in the industry dropped by 7 percentage points between first quarter 2019 and fourth quarter 2021, while the share of white ECE workers rose by 5 percentage points (Chart 1).[3] This is due to more Black workers leaving the industry and more white workers both joining and staying.

Chart 1: Share of White ECE Workers Increased as Share of Black Workers Declined During Pandemic

We compare the outcomes of ECE teachers with K–8 teachers in this study. This allows us to see if the trends observed among ECE teachers can be found among other teaching positions for young children. We chose K–8 teachers for this comparison because the two occupations share some similar duties (curriculum planning, leading classroom activities, etc.) and serve young clientele compared with high school and college instructors.

When it comes to the racial composition of the two workforces, it appears that the striking trend found in the ECE industry was not present among K–8 teachers. Throughout the pandemic, there was virtually no change in the shares of Black or white K–8 teachers.

We also found that mothers with young or school-age children (under age 13) were less likely to stay in the ECE industry.[4] This group’s share of the ECE workforce fell from 34 percent to 30 percent during the first year of the pandemic. This shows that the ECE industry was not immune to the dramatic labor force exit made by mothers of both young and school-age children in the COVID-19 era. Among K–8 teachers, the share of mothers of young or school-age children saw almost no change (an increase of 0.2 percentage points during the pandemic compared with before it).

We continue to find differences in recent trends between K–8 and ECE teachers as we look at their work experiences in the past few years.

Wage, health gaps between K–8 and ECE teachers grew during pandemic

The second half of our analysis explores the earnings and health outcomes for those who remained in the ECE industry. As before, we also present these outcomes for K–8 education.

We find that both ECE teachers and K–8 teachers worked, on average, a full hour more per week during the pandemic than before it. However, the change in compensation was uneven between the two groups (Chart 2). ECE teachers had average weekly earnings of $451 in 2018 compared with $1,041 for K–8 teachers. By 2021, these earnings increased to $509 for ECE teachers and jumped to $1,202 for K–8 teachers. The blue bars reflect the earnings gap, which has widened since the onset of the pandemic.

Chart 2: Weekly Earnings Gap Between K-8 and ECE Teachers Increased During Pandemic

The second metric we looked at was whether workers experienced physical or cognitive difficulties that affected their day-to-day life.[5] We found that the share of ECE teachers experiencing such a health problem trended upward continuously throughout the pandemic, eventually more than doubling from 2.6 percent in 2019 to 6.2 percent in 2022. A similar analysis of K–8 teachers reveals a more modest increase in teachers with health challenges, from 2.3 percent in 2019 to 2.9 percent in 2021 and eventually dropping to 2.1 percent in 2022.

As federal funds dry up, ECE industry still faces unresolved challenges

Our findings paint a picture of increasingly poor health outcomes with modest pay increases for ECE teachers who remained in the industry. At the same time, the ECE industry was losing workers, especially Black workers and mothers with young and school-age children. These trends among ECE teachers during the pandemic are mostly absent from the K–8 profession.

This suggests that, at a time when there are unprecedented federal funds allocated to improve the ECE industry, prioritizing efforts to make the industry more career oriented could improve the outcomes of ECE teachers, the children attending centers and their families. As this funding runs out in the coming years, fundamental hurdles will remain as the ECE industry recovers from the pandemic.


  1. Importantly, our analysis only considers those working in child care centers and does not include those who work in home or public school settings.
  2. We follow popular methodology when it comes to comparing ECE teachers with related occupations (see UC Berkeley and Brookings as examples).
  3. The share of nonwhite Hispanic workers was unchanged, and the sample size was too small to measure the share of workers of other races.
  4. We consider those who “remain” in the industry as ECE teachers who are currently employed in centers and held a similar job at least for one month in the past 15 months. The same definition applies to those who remained in the K–8 teaching profession.
  5. This includes difficulty walking, climbing stairs or performing basic activities outside the home alone, among other health challenges.

About the Authors

Anna Crockett

Anna Crockett

Crockett is a community development analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Xiaohan Zhang

Xiaohan Zhang

Zhang is a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas or the Federal Reserve System.