Investing in Illinois’ Child Care Sector Can Improve National Security
High-quality child care can contribute to future military readiness
Our national security relies on qualified young adults who are ready, willing, and able to serve in the U.S. military. However, educational deficits, behavior problems, and health issues (particularly obesity) prevent seven out of 10 youth in Illinois from qualifying for service. Investing in high-quality child care and the early childhood workforce can help address these obstacles, ensuring that children learn healthy habits at a young age, and are prepared for any career they choose, including military service.
In Illinois, 70 percent of parents of children under 6 are in the workforce. Just like the military needs well-resourced leaders to train its recruits and ensure national security, early childhood professionals must be well-supported to provide care to children during their most essential years of development.
Unfortunately, early care and education (ECE) programs do not always generate enough revenue to adequately pay teachers and staff. On average, ECE teachers earn $13.85 per hour in Illinois, despite the fact that 68 percent have at least an associate degree. Low wages and lack of benefits are a major reason why many employees leave the ECE field. In 2019, the turnover rate was 32 percent for early childhood teachers, and 46 percent for assistant teachers. During the pandemic, many providers closed or scaled-back and teachers sought other work; many likely will not return to child care.
Illinois has made strides to better support child care providers throughout our state, via pandemic-relief “restoration” grants and other measures. But we must do even more. The recommendations of Illinois’ Early Childhood Funding Commission provide an important blueprint for further advancements. As military child care and our state’s own experiences have demonstrated, improvements that address issues of adequate staffing and employee compensation can have lasting impacts. Our children, families, communities, and the nation’s well-being will all benefit.