Helping Those Who Teach the Youngest
Every day nearly 2 million adults are paid to care for and educate more than 12 million children from birth to 5 years of age. This workforce, made up mostly of women, includes child care workers, Head Start employees, preschool teachers and home care providers.
Science points to these early years as critical for healthy brain development, and the vital role of childhood educators in setting kids on a path to success was stressed in a recent report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. Early childhood workers, the report said, need to understand the science of child development and have the skills to provide high-quality support for young children.
Yet early educators are among the lowest paid workers in the U.S. Their median hourly wages in 2015 ranged from $8.72 in Mississippi to $12.24 in New York, with a national median of $9.77, according to the most recent data. Nearly half of child care workers received benefits from at least one public program, such as the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Preschool teachers make slightly more, with median hourly wages ranging from $10.54 in Idaho to $19.21 in Louisiana. Yet they’re paid much less than kindergarten teachers, whose national median hourly wage was $24.83.
With compensation a factor in teacher-retention rates—and research showing that low retention rates and inadequate teacher preparation affect the quality of care children receive—states are addressing low educator pay in a variety of ways. Some are requiring that early childhood teachers have certain levels of education; others are including certain compensation policies as benchmarks of quality in their rating systems. And most states are gathering data on their early childhood workforces.
Nearly half of states offer scholarships to those earning early childhood credentials—from certificates to associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood scholarships, which began in North Carolina, are now available via state or federal funding in at least 23 states and the District of Columbia.
At least five states operate a wage-supplement program, called WAGE$, to boost earnings for early childhood educators. Working with nonprofits and private funders, these states offer supplements based on a teacher’s education level and length of time in his or her position. The average six-month supplement was $891 in 2016.
In recent years, a few states have passed legislation to create workforce registries, bringing the total number of states with these systems to at least 42. The systems contain data on individual workers, including educational attainment, the organizations and providers that employ them, credentialing and licensure, and professional development. These troves of information on workforce makeup and quality can inform lawmakers’ policy and funding choices.
With science demonstrating the importance of early childhood education, many states are finding ways to support the workforce that provides this vital instruction.
State Lotteries Fight Jackpot Fatigue
For the 44 states that have them, state lotteries represent a small but valuable source of revenue. In the last few years, at least half those states have seen that revenue decline. Fewer millennials are playing, and many people are waiting to play until jackpots get unusually large, a phenomenon called “jackpot fatigue.” Lotteries also face growing competition from casinos and other forms of gambling.
There are seven more state lotteries today than there were in 1999, but the number of Americans buying tickets has declined by 7 percent, according to a 2016 Gallup poll.
On average, about 1 percent of state revenue comes from lotteries. Sometimes that money goes into the general fund, but most legislatures use it for schools, senior services or environmental protection. In crafting the current state budget, West Virginia lawmakers used some lottery money to fund Medicaid, rather than raise other taxes to cover that cost.
In some states, lottery revenue rivals or exceeds that of corporate income taxes. Nationally, state lotteries generated $66.8 billion in gross revenue in fiscal 2015, which exceeds the $48.7 billion generated by corporate income taxes, according to the Pew Research Center.
After putting $42.2 billion of that income into prizes and $3.2 billion into administration and advertising, however, states were left with net lottery proceeds of $21.4 billion.
States’ reliance on lottery income means they have to continually invent new games and prizes to keep bettors interested. Several have increased or restructured prize amounts and boosted advertising budgets to help the lotteries compete with casinos, which means spending more money in the hopes that those strategies will boost sales.
The multistate Mega Millions consortium recently announced it would raise ticket prices from $1 to $2 in October.
Online lottery sales are one way several states have tried to boost revenue. In June, New Hampshire became the fifth state to legalize internet lottery sales, after Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan. At least four other states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia—considered legislation in 2017.
Where Have All the Babies Gone?
The Great Recession, like most periods of economic decline, caused unemployment to spike and birth rates to drop. But in the current recovery, unlike others, the economy is improving while birth rates are not. Birth rates fell to a historic low in 2016, with a mere 62 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. In 2015, New England (except Maine) and the District of Columbia had the lowest birth rates in the U.S., while South Dakota, Utah and Alaska had the highest.
Multiple factors have contributed to these low rates in recent years. The first is the recession, as rising unemployment is linked to corresponding decreases in the birth rate. Young workers in particular were hit hard, and the combination of rising costs of living and weighty student loan debts has made supporting children difficult. Even young adults who are more financially secure have chosen to delay marriage and children for other reasons.
Immigration is an important factor as well, as recent immigrants have among the highest birth rates of any group. But immigration gains from Mexico have stalled, according to the Pew Research Center, and several states that typically have received large numbers of immigrants are seeing their birth rates decline sharply.
The effects of fwer births won’t be clear for decades, but experts anticipate a smaller working population in future years. With baby boomers retiring, fewer workers could cause labor shortages and put a strain on state tax revenue and social services like Medicare and Medicaid.
But lower birth rates bring good news too: Fewer teen and unintended pregnancies also are contributing to the decline. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the teen birth rate dropped 46 percent between 2007 and 2015. Rates have also dipped for women in their 20s, while rates for women in their 30s and early 40s are at their highest since the 1960s.
Some scholars predict that lower rates of early and unintended childbearing will have positive implications for education, the workforce and parenting. Older mothers are generally more economically stable and more likely to carry good health insurance, which could lessen the demand for social services down the road. Fewer pregnancies also indicate more women participating more consistently in the workforce, which would help to fill potential labor shortages.
The biggest unknown right now is how many women are simply delaying childbirth and how many are forgoing it altogether. Only with time will we know whether the low birth rate—and all the policy implications that result from it—represents a temporary phenomenon or a lasting feature of American society.
A Rising Solar-Powered Workforce
Fueled by the rapidly increasing pace of installations, solar energy is one of the fastest growing employment fields in the nation. One of every 50 new jobs added in 2016 was in the solar industry, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Job Census.
By the Numbers
12: States and Puerto Rico have statewide policies on licensing solar contractors.
3: States have local policies on licensing solar contractors.
The total number of solar jobs increased by nearly 25 percent last year, surpassing 260,000 workers. About half of those jobs paid an average of $26 an hour, and nearly 70 percent of all solar jobs identified in the survey did not require a bachelor’s degree.
As the solar industry grows, legislators are considering ways to boost employment growth. Some states have developed licensing or certification policies and created training programs to ensure that workers have the expertise needed to safely install solar systems.
Proper installation requires compliance with zoning policies, as well as building, fire and electrical codes. Approaches vary, but at least 12 states and Puerto Rico have statewide policies governing solar photovoltaic, solar hot water and solar thermal contractor licensing and certification.
Rhode Island lawmakers, for example, created the Renewable Energy Professional Certificate in 2014 for registered contractors who have at least an associate degree in renewable or solar energy, or who have completed an approved certification course. It allows holders to perform certain installation work but requires a licensed electrician to complete all electrical work on a project.
States can require contractors performing electrical work on solar installations to hold a general electrician license; restrict those with limited licenses to certain electrical work, based on system size or components; or leave this determination to localities.
Licensing policies are typically mandatory, though certification is generally a voluntary credential administered by a third party. Maine, New York and Wisconsin, however, require installers to hold a third-party certificate for the system to be eligible for solar incentive programs.
To increase the size and strength of their workforces, some states have created solar training programs. Illinois lawmakers, for example, passed legislation in 2016 that created the Solar for All Program to develop solar projects and job training programs in low-income communities.
The law also requires utilities to develop and fund solar training and apprenticeship programs with incentives to hire qualified individuals who are foster-care graduates or former inmates.
This year, at least five states considered legislation on solar licensing, certification or training, and more states are likely to consider these policies in the future.
Traffic Stop 101
An addition to driver education is catching on in several states: how to interact with police during a traffic stop.
Knowing how to act during a stop helps both driver and officer feel safer and more at ease in what can be a stressful and occasionally dangerous situation.
Altercations following police stops resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people, including six officers, in 2015, according to the FBI and Washington Post database.
Illinois, in 2016, was the first state to pass legislation requiring driver education courses to include instruction on police procedures during traffic stops and what actions are appropriate for drivers to take during a stop. The Virginia General Assembly passed similar legislation this year.
Lawmakers in Alaska and Arkansas focused on training materials. Alaska’s new law requires motor vehicle instructional manuals to cover drivers’ rights and responsibilities when stopped by an officer. Arkansas also requires the written driver’s license test to include questions on stops.
Legislatures in Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas also passed legislation this year requiring police stops to be part of driver education.
Texas’ new law goes a step further than the others by requiring traffic stops to be part of police training and public high school coursework. The curriculum must include the duties of police, the rights of the public, the proper actions for civilians and officers, how to file a complaint and more.
Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island also considered bills, though none had passed as of July 15.
If You're Pulled Over
—Let the officer know that you see him or her and pull over with enough space for you and the officer to be out of traffic.
—Put your vehicle in park, take your foot off the brake, turn the radio off and roll your window all the way down.
—Keep your hands visible. Place them on the steering wheel or out the window. Passengers, too, should keep their hands visible and remain quiet.
—At night, turn on the interior light so the officer can see you clearly.
—Answer allquestions honestly, politely and succinctly.
—Do not reach for anything until the officer asks you to.
—Always thank the officer at the end, even if you don’t want to, and wait for an OK before driving away.
Source: American Automobile Association