The coronavirus has had a lasting effect on a lot of things we used to take for granted. Mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand-sanitizing, and closures or capacity limits imposed on public places forced many into self-isolation. Some lost jobs or had to pivot to a work-from-home situation. It all contributed to changes in childcare services where many parents found themselves juggling working remotely in their home with watching over their young children. The pandemic also put additional pressure on the childcare service sector, an industry that was already in dire circumstances long before the coronavirus made it to the US. In this article, we will take a closer look at how COVID-19 has impacted the childcare sector and what the federal government may be able to do to help resurrect it.
The Cold, Hard Facts
Statistics show that about 20 million American families contain young children aged 5 years and younger. Over half of all Americans live in communities that have been identified as “childcare deserts” where there are no childcare or daycare services, or these services exist in communities far away, or if these services exist, they have no available room with waiting lists up to three children deep for each spot. According to the Century Foundation, pandemic-related disruptions to childcare have cost affected parents in the neighborhood of $13 billion in lost income annually since 2020. The data came from studies conducted from September to December 2021 with 37,000 households participating.
The Effects of A Lack of Childcare
Century Foundation researchers Julie Kashen and Clive Belfield say that there have been several direct effects on households that once relied on childcare services. The effects have been negative and include the following:
- Parents who had no choice but to quit their jobs to stay home
- Parents who had to adjust or shorten their work schedules
- Parents who had to change their work contracts to accommodate the situation
- Parents who had to scale back their careers
All of these changes, according to the researchers, result in a total of $9.5 billion in lost wages. They also claim that the same parents lost an additional $3.5 billion annually from missed opportunities to advance their careers. Additional research shows that roughly 20-percent of the households that contain young children saw parents either leave their jobs or lost them as a result of no childcare services being available to them. Other parents either reduced their work hours or chose unpaid leave. The bottom line? Over half of the families with young children experienced a serious drop in household income because of a lack of childcare.
Women Hit Harder Than Men
According to the work conducted by Kashen and Belfield, they determined that families impacted by a lack of childcare were affected differently within each household. They found that women bore the greatest burden from a disruption of childcare. It was also predominant in households of color. The study shows that black households with young children experienced job loss in about 23-percent of those homes. The total for white families was 13-percent. Across the board, a total of 18-percent of women in households with young children lost their jobs or chose to leave them due to a lack of childcare. That compares to 14-percent of men in the same situation. Even after lockdowns ended and childcare services started reopening, almost 25-percent of families with young children were still unable to find childcare as late as the fall of 2021.
Why Childcare Services Are So Sparse
A report released by Child Care Aware of America sheds some light on the reality of operating a child care or daycare service in today’s world. A total of 16,000 childcare centers and licensed family day care programs have closed between December 2019 and March 2021. The report says many factors have contributed to this. They include the following:
- An increase in operating costs
- Dangerously small profit margins
- Rising labor costs due to inflation
- Fluctuating attendance figures following COVID
Although 16,000 closures total a 9-percent drop in childcare and daycare centers across the country, the US was suffering from a lack of them before the pandemic decimated the numbers. Plus, service providers that were barely making a living often did not survive the shift in how childcare and daycare were delivered during lockdowns.
The Federal Government Has A Plan
The Joe Biden administration has introduced a program identified as the Build Back Better plan. In it, are provisions to allocate federal funding to bolster the childcare sector. The funding would go towards covering the cost of childcare for families with children under the age of 5. The funding amounts would be based on household income and would also support the childcare industry with a residual goal of helping to create a universal pre-kindergarten program. However, the legislative package is currently stalled. It sits in Congress as it does not currently have the full support of the Senate.
The Lingering Effects of The Pandemic
The pandemic is far from over. It continues to have an impact on childcare services across the country. Plus, parents who have lost career opportunities during the pandemic will be dealing with those consequences for several years to come. According to a report from the Century Foundation, “The labor market losses in terms of lost opportunities may continue as a drag on these households’ earnings for many years after the worst impacts of the pandemic have subsided.” Lynette Fraga, Child Care Aware of America CEO adds, “Far too many families still do not have access to high-quality child care due to barriers such as expense and lack of availability. Without large-scale investments in our childcare system, such as the Build Back Better Act, these trends will continue.”
The pandemic became the tipping point for an already fragile industry – the childcare and daycare sector. It forced many service providers living on the edge to go out of business which created a ripple effect in households across the US with young children. The impact forced parents to change their work lives to stay home. A plan exists to rebuild the industry, but it is currently on hold. Should it move forward, it will bring some relief but it is unknown as to how much that will help the childcare industry, if at all.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.