LaWanda Wesley had worked in child care for more than two decades, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t seem to get a significant raise or the promotion she felt she deserved. Her salary remained stagnant at around $19 an hour.

She earned her master’s degree in educational leadership and policy studies and then a doctorate in educational leadership and management, all while raising five children as a single mother. But the organizations she worked for told her not to expect any pay difference or title change. At one point, Wesley, who is Black, was demoted and asked to train a white coworker to be her supervisor. In another, a company was audited by the state and was required to give her a 7% raise because she was so underpaid.

“The message I received as a Black woman in early education was that no matter what you do (what letters and degrees you earn), this is your place. And this place is worthless,” Wesley said. “I remember feeling so inferior, so degraded and confused.”

Women of color make up nearly two-thirds of the early childhood workforce in California, yet they routinely earn lower wages and hold lower positions than their white peers, even when they are more educated, according to a new report from the Center for the study. of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley.

Researchers surveyed 7,500 people working in the child care sector at the end of 2020 and found:

  • Black and Latino educators are more likely to hold lower-paying positions.
  • Black educators do not receive pay increases for earning a higher education degree.
  • Black, Latino and Asian teachers receive smaller pay raises when promoted to daycare director than their white peers.
  • White educators make up 35% of the total workforce, but hold 54% of leadership positions.
  • Latinas represent 40% of the early childhood workforce, but 24% of child care center directors.
  • Black principals earn $3,600 less and Latina principals earn $7,700 less than Asian or white center principals.
  • While Black educators make up 8% of the total early child care workforce, they make up 13% of home child care providers, who are the most likely to report financial concerns.

“People often assume that more education leads to higher salaries or job advancements, but our data showed that wasn’t the case,” said Yoonjeon Kim, senior research analyst at the UC Berkeley center. “Black educators had the same education as white educators, but they were paid less,” Kim said.

Child care workers have long struggled with some of the lowest wages in the economy, regardless of race or ethnicity. The survey found that assistant teachers in California were paid an average of $16 an hour, and lead teachers $19.10, less than the $20 minimum wage for fast food workers that will begin in April.

Unlike public school districts, child care workers do not have a standard pay scale that sets salaries based on education and years of experience, which can help guard against bias.

Wesley, who is now director of government relations at Child Care Resource Center, a large nonprofit that helps connect Los Angeles County families with child care and other resources, says the survey results are not surprising.

Early childhood educators of color, she said, are often encouraged to stay in roles that work directly with children, rather than being promoted to leadership positions. “You’ll see us go 20 to 30 years in the same position without getting promoted,” she said. “You just feel stuck and your dreams are crushed by any kind of pay equity. “It is simply out of our reach.”

Keisha Nzewi, co-founder of Black Californians United for ECE, a nonprofit that works for Black children, families and workers, said low wages in child care are a vestige of slavery. “Women were forced to do it for free and forced to care for the children of their oppressors instead of their own children. When we started paying it, we still barely paid it.”

Inequalities are built into the current funding structure, Nzewi said. State subsidies that help low-income families pay for child care are set according to each community’s “market rate.” In low-income communities, where many women of color set up daycares, they are paid less.

“People want to serve their community, they want to serve the families in their neighborhood. But to do that they earn lower wages,” she said. “We have the poor subsidizing the poor.”

Cecilia Prillwitz drops her 7-year-old son off at school.

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A counterpoint is Head Start, where women of color are more likely to work and which pays higher wages than many private day care centers, the study notes.

Lower wages in low-income communities

Betty Luckett is fighting to make ends meet as owner of From the Heart Preschool and Enrichment Center in Inglewood, which serves up to 40 children, including kindergarteners. She charges her mainly working-class parents between $1,325 and $1,425 a month in tuition for a full-time daycare spot, but it’s not enough, she said.

He’s thinking about raising rates soon, but knows he can’t raise prices as much as centers in wealthier parts of Los Angeles County — families in the area wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Regional disparities have a big impact on how he can pay his seven employees, who are black and Latino, he said. Luckett hopes to increase full-time teachers to $22 an hour and part-time teachers to $20 an hour to be competitive with other industries such as fast food and retail. It’s frustrating to see how difficult it is to match those industries when child care workers deserve to earn more for their work, she said.

“This is a black and brown issue,” Luckett said. “In general, we are simply not valued. “We are expected to do these things for our marginalized communities, and our grants do not manage what we do.”

California looks to the future

California is in the midst of a wave of policy changes that could change current disparities, the report notes.

The state is reviewing how it sets rates for publicly funded child care, for example, and could opt to incorporate a formal pay scale, Kim said. At the same time, the state is also creating a new teaching credential for preschool through third grade, including the expanded transitional kindergarten program.

“As of this writing, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing has made policy decisions that privilege the current pipeline of K-12 teachers (a traditionally white workforce), as well as early education educators with greater financial means” , the researchers wrote. “It’s not too late to change course.”

The study found that Latina educators had lower levels of education than other racial and ethnic groups.

Yohana I. Quiróz entered the child care workforce when she was in her early 20s, but she said it took her 15 years to earn her associate’s degree, while working full time, allowing her to transfer to a four-year university .

“I didn’t see myself as a capable student and they made me feel that way,” said Quiróz, who is now chief operating officer of the Felton Institute, a large nonprofit child care organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. . “I felt like I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t smart enough.”

Eventually, he managed to get into a program at San Francisco State University that was designed for full-time workers and was able to earn his bachelor’s degree and then his doctorate in educational leadership. “But how many people actually make it that far and don’t give up on that journey?” she asked. “And what are the ways we can support the workforce so that obtaining degrees is not the problem?”

This article is part of the Times’ early childhood education initiative, which focuses on the learning and development of California children from birth to age 5. To learn more about the initiative and its philanthropic sponsors, visit

By Sam