Cover: Early Childhood Educators in Hawaiʻi

Early Childhood Educators in Hawaiʻi

Addressing Compensation, Working Conditions, and Professional Advancement

Published Oct 25, 2022

by Lynn A. Karoly, Jill S. Cannon, Celia J. Gomez, Ashley Woo

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Research Questions

  1. What does the employment landscape look like for the ECE workforce in Hawaiʻi?
  2. What are potential policy strategies to improve compensation and working conditions for the ECE workforce?

It is increasingly understood that a diverse, well-prepared, well-supported, and well-compensated workforce is essential for the delivery of high-quality early childhood programs serving children from birth to kindergarten entry. As Hawaiʻi has increased its investment in early care and education (ECE) programs, stakeholders have come to recognize that the state's investment in the ECE workforce has not kept pace with the resources going to the expansion of access to such programs.

This report documents the low wages, few benefits, mixed working conditions, and lack of incentives for career advancement in place for the ECE workforce. The authors also provide long-term and short-term strategies for Hawaiʻi to invest in improvements that would help recruit and retain workers in the ECE field.

Key Findings

  • Wages and salaries for early educators in Hawaiʻi are not competitive with jobs requiring similar levels of education or experience; median hourly wages, estimated at approximately $13–$17 per hour, are well below the living wage estimate of at least $28.50 per hour for the state. Although median wages for child care workers in Hawaiʻi exceed the national median, the pattern is reversed once the high cost of living in the state is accounted for.
  • Benefit packages vary across early childhood settings according to the survey data. The most-common benefits were paid holidays, sick leave, and vacations; less common were paid retirement benefits or paid parental leave.
  • Workforce members in center-based settings expressed less concern about the benefits component of compensation than they did about wages; limited access to benefits was a more salient concern for family child care providers.
  • Early educators in Hawaiʻi have mixed experiences with supportive working conditions. Of special note were concerns among at least some staff about long hours and limited time and physical space away from children that could be used for planning.
  • Challenges with workforce recruitment and retention are part of the early educator landscape. Limited incentives or supports exist for early educators to obtain credentials or degrees according to provider focus groups and expert interviews.


  • The starting strategy for addressing shortfalls in the ECE workforce involves a short-term (lasting one or two years) stabilization of the workforce. Activities designed to improve compensation, working conditions, and professional advancement could also provide an opportunity to encourage qualified workforce members who have left the field to return. These policies are easier to implement and require less revenue than the second strategy.
  • The second strategy focuses on strengthening and sustaining the ECE workforce by devising long-term, sustainable approaches that address workforce needs. These approaches are expected to require more planning, piloting of new methods, and raising of additional funds to fully secure the needed revenue, primarily from the public sector.
  • A third complementary strategy provides a backbone for the other two strategies and focuses on supporting ECE workforce policies. These activities span the implementation of both the other phases and address the needs for infrastructure, legislation, regulations, revenue-raising, and other policies required to implement the two primary strategies.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, College of Education and conducted by RAND Education and Labor and the Social and Behavioral Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.