The Pandemic is Hurting Child Care. Parents are Paying the Price.

Teacher and administrator Latoya Oneal, right, checks-in children as their parents stand at a distance and give health info to her at the Community Day Center for Children Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Seattle.

Teacher and administrator Latoya Oneal, right, checks-in children as their parents stand at a distance and give health info to her at the Community Day Center for Children Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Seattle. Associated Press

 

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About 700,000 parents left their jobs to care for their kids after child care centers closed, according to a recent analysis.

Roughly 700,000 parents with young children have left the workforce in the past year due to child care issues, according to a recent data analysis from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. That includes parents who were laid off and stopped looking for work due to lack of child care, as well as those who left their jobs specifically to care for their kids.

“Without further relief and the promise of sustained investment in the child care sector, America could be facing a child care shortage so severe that many parents may not be able to rejoin the workforce, hindering an economic recovery,” says the analysis, which examines data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The staggering numbers are the direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered thousands of child care centers and continues to wreak havoc on the ones that remain open. Operating costs have increased while enrollment has plummeted. More than half of care centers nationwide were reporting daily financial losses late last year, according to one survey. 

There’s the potential for immediate funding help, the analysis notes, thanks to $10 billion for child care included in the relief act passed by Congress in December. But that may not be enough. At the onset of the pandemic, the child care sector lost more than 350,000 jobs in a single month, half of which have not returned. The industry may have lost more jobs in December, according to an analysis of job postings.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the child care industry very hard, just as the industry’s very essential role in the nation’s society and economy have been demonstrated under duress,” the analysis says. “In the absence of substantial relief funds, many providers have cut back on staff and enrollment, but many of their fixed operating costs remain. These conditions are not sustainable for the industry, especially as Covid-19 cases surge across the country.”

The loss of reasonably priced child care has already had dire consequences for working parents, according to the data. In addition to the 700,000 parents who left their jobs to care for their children, thousands of parents who remained employed were forced to miss work due to lack of help. 

“From September through November 2020, the pandemic led to a 144% increase in child care-related work absences compared with the same period in 2019, including an all-time high of 93,900 absences during a single week in October,” the analysis found.

The report goes on to say that, “Without the full complement of their workforces, major manufacturers have reported that child care-related absences are a key reason they are struggling to increase output from assembly lines. On the other side of the equation, working families are worried that a lack of child care could threaten their employment and income security.”

Lawmakers could implement several policies to help, the analysis concludes, including long-term funding to aid the child care industry and an extension of an emergency paid leave program, which guaranteed some workers 12 weeks of paid absence to provide care and reimbursed employers through tax credits.

The report describes those policies as, "Critical to reviving the economy; saving hundreds of thousands of child care jobs; and bringing 700,000 parents with young children, who will need to work and provide for their families, back into the labor force.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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