In this week's, post Program Officer Jeff Baird discusses the social and economic importance of early childhood care in Alaska.

When I joined the board of thread three years ago, it was for a very simple reason. I want all Alaska’s children to have a chance. A chance to be healthy, happy and successful. And I believe this lifelong goal starts with access to quality early care and education. So it was my heart that led me to seek out service with thread.

Rasmuson Foundation Board Member Dr. Matt Hirschfeld speaks at the Summit on Economic Impact of Early Care and Learning.

Rasmuson Foundation Board Member Dr. Matt Hirschfeld speaks at the Summit on Economic Impact of Early Care and Learning.

But as I’ve since learned, investing in the early care and education sector is also a heck of a business decision.

thread, Alaska’s Child Care Resource and Referral Network, recently hosted a summit focusing on the economic impact of early care and learning and presented the findings of a study quantifying the sector’s contribution. The amount of money the field directly contributes to Alaska is significant – $512 million statewide, according to the 2015 Economic Impact of Early Care & Learning Report. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The field employs 6,500 people (more than food and beverage, air transportation, building construction and telecommunication industries). The annual earnings of adults able to participate in Alaska’s workforce because of access to care is $2 billion. Every dollar invested in early care and learning, has a multiplying effect of $1.50.

Now to some of the more alarming findings. For as much money as the sector generates for Alaska, the sector’s professionals are some of the lowest paid in Alaska. The average annual wage for an early care educator is $20,676 – only 40% of the average statewide wage. Early care and education services are expensive, and there’s not a significant difference in cost between basic licensed care centers (which charge approximately $740 per child per month) and high-quality centers ($970 per child per month). This is in part because demand for early care and learning services across the state far outpaces supply. About 90,000 children under 13 years of age are potentially in need of service, approximately double the supply of regulated slots. This begs the question, where are the children not in licensed slots going, and are we missing a chance to impact these young children at the most formative period of their lives? Not only that, how many parents are either leaving Alaska or are not joining the workforce because of a lack of palatable options for their children?

If you’re interested in learning more about the report or about what you can do to advance this conversation contact thread CEO, Stephanie Berglund at