New brief: The educators who care for NC children are struggling

New brief: The educators who care for NC children are struggling

- in Other Voices, Top Story
Image: Adobe Stock

[Editor’s note: A new brief from the children’s advocacy group NC Child offers some startling findings about the way North Carolina treats its early childhood educators. Once again, researchers have confirmed that a large swath of the state’s workforce — in this case, one of the most important groups of workers — lack access to basic heath care and would benefit tremendously if state lawmakers act to close the state’s Medicaid coverage gap. The following is from the release that accompanied “Health Care Can’t Wait: Early Childhood Educators.”]

Early childhood educators in NC often lack health care
Statewide, one in five early childhood educators has no access to health coverage

A new release from NC Child highlights the plight of many who work in early childhood education: no access to health coverage. Statewide, one in five early childhood educators lacks health insurance, and in some rural North Carolina counties those numbers may be even higher.

Early childhood educators foster the brain development of young children, setting the foundation for all future learning. Despite their significant impact on children’s success, these educators often bear the stress of low wages and limited workplace supports. In 2017, the median salary for child care workers in North Carolina was $20,509. While that income level is too high to qualify for Medicaid, it is usually too low to qualify for subsidies on – leaving many early childhood educators with no viable options.

“Early childhood teachers are shaping lives,” said Aubree Waddell, an early childhood educator in Garner who has worked in the field for a decade. “If people are going to entrust their child with us all day, we need to be physically and mentally healthy enough to care for them.”

“This is my passion,” said Camden Rivenbark, who has a BA in early childhood and has been teaching in Wilmington for four years. She will soon lose health insurance when her father retires from his job, which currently provides coverage for her to manage her chronic health conditions. “I want to teach the little ones my whole life,” said Rivenbark. “I want do this forever. But in the back of my mind I’m like, I’ll have to go back to school and do something else, because I can’t live off of not having insurance.”

“In North Carolina we actually have a serious shortage of early childhood educators,” said Rob Thompson, deputy director of NC Child. “If you have a physically and mentally demanding job like working with young children, you need affordable health care. Otherwise North Carolina will never be able to have the strong and stable early childhood workforce we need.”

North Carolina legislators are currently considering several proposals to ensure that lower-income people in the state are not locked out of health coverage. Bills in the House and Senate would use federal funding to expand access to Medicaid, as 37 other states have already done. Leaders from both parties and the Governor have different approaches to implement greater access to health care, but would need to reach a compromise in order to actually pass legislation this session. Statewide, it is estimated that 500,000 people are in the “coverage gap,” earning too much for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidies on Among them are thousands of early childhood educators.

The new fact sheet, along with first-person stories, photos, audio, and video clips of educators in their own words, and can be accessed by clicking here.