November 18, 2022

Coronavirus and the Future of Childcare

One of the alleged silver linings of coronavirus lockdowns is the chance to spend more time with family, but mounting research paints a less rosy picture with child care provision surging toward serious crisis.

We’ll start with the obvious. With social distancing in effect and the current dearth of testing capabilities at the local, state, and federal levels, many child care facilities are closed, not to mention elementary, middle, and high schools. This poses a problem for all working parents, whether they are those fortunate enough to have the option to telecommute or those workers designated “essential.” And while some states such as New York have allowed childcare facilities to remain open, parents are still asked to make a very difficult choice about their health and the health of their children.

Parents who are in “essential” services are severely restricted by lockdown measures because they cannot simply choose to stay home without significant repercussions, including loss of employment and denial of unemployment insurance and other essential benefits. According to a recent survey conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, only 22% of survey respondents said they could continue using pre-coronavirus child care arrangements and often only if they had no major schedule changes—an unlikely scenario in light of the pandemic. Additionally, for parents who had enrolled in a now-closed program, 42% are still paying fees, some just to ensure their child has a place when a program reopens.

While telecommute workers do not have as difficult a choice to make, their lives also face serious challenges. The Bipartisan survey found that 56% of respondents are now working remotely or have a family member working remotely, but a full 43% of them still need childcare services and 10% are working outside of normal hours because of childcare commitments. 

In addition to parents having to adapt to huge changes in their work/family balance, childcare providers are in serious financial trouble. As the Hechinger Report described in a recent article, 1.7 million people who work in child care which is all but shut down at the moment. Additionally, childcare facilities are often in precarious financial situations at the best of times, relying on enrollment fees or funding from Head Start and other federal programs that are given low priority even when there isn’t a global pandemic.

Coronavirus has highlighted the knife’s edge that US childcare stands on. As we have highlighted before, many aspects of childcare have been ignored or underfunded for years and parents are forced to make difficult choices about work and child care. These issues have only been exacerbated since the outbreak, and, as Citylab reported, this is a crisis not just in the US but throughout the world where many governments do too little to provide for childcare services while still requiring parents to work full-time.

We need strong, federal guarantees for parental leave and funding for accessible childcare. Such as the proposal by Senators Warren and Smith. Without childcare, women will inevitably face more challenges in their ability to return to work, and find themselves forced out of the job market. We cannot wait until the pandemic is past, in part because we don’t know when that will be, but also and more importantly, because it is the right thing to do. 

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