Examining Regional Differences in the Arkansas Early Care and Education Workforce
High-quality early care and education (ECE) facilitates young children’s cognitive development and social-emotional learning, which, in turn, prepare them for success later in life. Parents depend on high-quality ECE to support their children’s development in a safe environment, making it possible for them to earn an income to support their families. As such, the ECE workforce is critically important to young children and their families.
The quality of care children receive is affected not only by the education and training of the ECE workforce, but also by its emotional and financial well-being (Whitebook, et al., 2018; Smith & Lawrence, 2019). Research suggests that many ECE teachers and caregivers in the United States face economic distress and lack workplace supports that facilitate effective teaching (e.g., professional development opportunities, a positive workplace environment, adequate compensation) (Whitebook, et al, 2018). While these challenges seem to affect the workforce nationwide, it is possible that experiences may vary regionally. For instance, regional differences in urbanicity, proximity to colleges and universities, and availability of workplace supports may be associated with the well-being of the ECE workforce.
To better understand whether the geographic location of the ECE workforce might be associated with variations in well-being, Child Trends examined differences in Arkansas’s ECE workforce by region and by urbanicity. Measures of well-being were derived from a comprehensive statewide ECE workforce survey. For this study, Child Trends partnered with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
The purpose of this brief is to examine specific characteristics of the ECE workforce to see whether they vary across the state of Arkansas. The brief addresses two main questions:
- Does the ECE workforce in Arkansas vary by region or by urbanicity with respect to what teachers and caregivers report about their well-being, the economic pressures they face, and their education levels?
- What factors do stakeholders believe might contribute to variation in the characteristics of well-being, economic pressures, and education levels within the ECE workforce across Arkansas?
Several key findings emerged from this examination:
- There was significant variation by region or urbanicity on three measures of workforce well-being: teachers’ and caregivers’ risk of depression, their perceptions of decision-making power at their workplaces, and their likelihood of attaining an ECE credential.
- While there were not significant differences by region or urbanicity, the likelihood of teachers and caregivers holding a second job was moderately high across the state. Half of stakeholders surveyed also suggested that Arkansas ECE teachers and caregivers may underreport holding a second job, as positions like babysitting or farm work may not be considered a second job.
- Although there were not significant differences by region or urbanicity, the likelihood of teachers and caregivers experiencing food insecurity was relatively high across the state. Stakeholders identified low wages as the most likely explanation for this pattern.
- The likelihood of teachers and caregivers holding an ECE credential varied significantly by region and by urbanicity. Key stakeholders noted that access to specific universities and hiring preferences or requirements may have contributed to these geography-based differences.
 Child Trends conducted a similar study that addressed the same research questions to examine regional differences in Nebraska’s ECE workforce. Findings from that study can be found here https://www.childtrends.org/publications/examining-regional-differences-nebraska-early-care-and-education-workforce.