Early care educators in California must turn to CalFresh to try to make ends meet

Published on Apr 13, 2021 in Young Children

Early educators — disproportionately women of color and immigrant women — have stepped up to the challenge of providing early learning and care to support California’s families during this unprecedented crisis, but many are not paid enough to meet their own basic needs, including food.

According to a recent analysis, fifteen percent of early care educators in California must turn to CalFresh to try to make ends meet, but the problem is even more acute for Black, Latinx, and multiracial workers who are disproportionately more likely to participate. These concerning racial disparities are another legacy of racist and institutionalized policies that continue to undervalue and underpay the early care workforce. The data also reflects the conditions that existed prior to the pandemic, and we can only expect that the disparities in pay and the likelihood of food insecurity have worsened.

EarlyCareCalFreshEnrollment

Data Source: Nourish California analysis of 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
Data does not reflect the diversity of experience within the Asian-American community and due to data limitations, data likely underestimate the use of CalFresh in the child care workforce. Methodology.

Even before COVID-19, early care programs faced the challenge of operating on razor-thin margins. The median child care worker wage in California has historically fallen far below a living wage. When enrollment plunged at the start of the pandemic, many were forced to close their doors. According to data from the California Department of Social Services, over 2,000 licensed family child care homes shut their doors permanently. Family child care homes and centers that remain open today are still trying to make up the difference for income lost while absorbing additional costs of reopening.

Although costs have gone up, pay has not. California has made little to no progress in fairly compensating the early educator workforce in recent years. Family child care providers and centers that receive state subsidy payments for providing care to low and moderate-income families are still paid based on child care market data from 2015 despite increases in the cost of living across the state.

"California is home to one of the world’s largest economies, yet we continue to hear informal reports of early educators having to show up at food banks to feed themselves and their families"

Melissa Cannon

Tremendous need in the face of great prosperity is unacceptable. Governor Newsom and the California legislature have an opportunity to change this, by supporting state budget investments and policies that promote equity in child care access and pay for the workforce.