For families who have children to take care of, parenthood can feel like a relentless series of financial challenges. Previous reports revealed that middle-class wages have barely kept pace with the rate of inflation. This is alongside the increasing costs of securing a family, including the necessary costs of housing, education, health care, and child care.
Many Families Face Child Care Challenges
For years, many families have struggled with the costs of child care. A study found that families earning less than $100,000 annually identified cost as the primary barrier to finding care. Since the cost of child care reaches thousands of dollars each year, they struggle to find a program that they can afford. A challenge like this is driving parents out of the workforce at an alarming rate. In 2016 alone, an estimated two million parents made career sacrifices due to problems with child care.
According to American Progress, an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, child care challenges have become a barrier to work, especially for mothers who disproportionately take on unpaid caregiving responsibilities when their family cannot find or afford child care. A 2018 survey showed that mothers were 40% more likely than fathers to report that they had personally felt the negative impact of child care issues on their careers. This not only become a barrier but also drove them out of the workforce.
Studies also showed that women’s labor force participation in the US has decreased over the past two decades due to the high cost of child care. One study, for instance, found that the rising cost of child care resulted in an estimated 13% decline in the employment of mothers with children under age 5. About one-third of the decrease in women’s labor force participation is due to the country’s failure to implement policies that support mothers to enter and remain in the workforce.
All of these child care challenges are worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of families across the world are struggling to balance their lives with work and taking of children as tens of thousands of schools and numerous daycare centers are closed. Parents have to juggle child care with Zoom meetings and projects, sometimes working hours every night to make up for lost time during the day. “I feel incredibly exhausted all the time,” one mom said.
Why Child Care During This Pandemic is Critical
Hayley Gorbet, a mother of three children (ages 5, 8, and 11) from Nevada, has been having a hard time focusing on her work and helping her kids with remote schoolwork. Before the pandemic hit, she was pursuing an associate’s degree in clinical psychology at the local community college while also working at Applebee’s at night.
In an interview from Vox, a liberal-leaning American news and opinion website owned by Vox Media, Gorbet said that her life at home is chaotic. She has to attend lectures via Zoom while dealing with disruptions from her kids. “It’s been hard for me to structure my learning at home, as well as theirs. I’ve been working on my stuff late at night, which has been hard getting up in the morning to get them ready. I hope life goes back to normal because I don’t know if I can do all that learning from home,” she said.
Experts say that it is important to value child care now more than ever. It not only helps parents and caregivers enter and stay in the workforce but also provides critical stability for children’s health and wellbeing, which is essential during uncertain times such as this crisis. The revenue of the industry that amounts to billions of dollars is also being benefited by other industries. Estimates from the Committee on Economic Development (CED) revealed that the child care industry’s spillover (output) in other industries is an additional $52.1 billion.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has put this industry at risk. According to CLASP.org, a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty nonprofit advancing policy solutions for low-income people, many primary sources of revenue of child care programs are being rapidly depleted because parents are losing jobs and facing economic hardship they themselves cannot afford to pay. A recent survey of 5,000 child care providers reported that nearly half of respondents are already completely closed, 17% are closed to everyone except children of essential personnel, and 3% of the remaining programs are operating without modified rule.
Experts say that the child care industry will not be able to survive this crisis and will struggle to bounce back without significant support. This would leave families and communities at a loss and would have implications for both parents’ choices as well as the ability to find culturally competent care. The choices for child care programs will only be more limited if programs fail to reopen. As a result, families who already have a difficult time finding care that meets their unique needs before the pandemic will struggle more.
Thus, there’s an immediate need to provide relief for the industry. Without it, we risk not having a system to come back to, which will hamper our recovery. Experts are encouraging lawmakers to provide at least $50 billion in dedicated funding to stabilize the sector. This fund would provide relief to providers who are closed, resources and support for providers who remain open, care for children of essential workers, and financial relief to families.
Many experts also encourage fathers to step up because mothers have been the most affected. The UN Population Fund, for instance, launched an initiative to promote men’s equal engagement in caregiving and household chores. It has been advocating for men’s active engagement in childcare since 2014. Men in many countries are sharing videos of themselves reading stories to their children in an effort to encourage men to play more active roles in their families.
“Now that every parent is a teacher, and every house is a school. We see more than ever how difficult it is to be a caregiver, a profession that unites dozens of occupations. Participating in this campaign is a way to show women that they are not alone, and to let children feel the support of fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, friends, and teachers,” journalist and teacher Giorgi Liparishvili said.