Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has carried-on for the majority of 2020, analysts are beginning to see the deep, more-than-likely decades long repercussions of this global and national disaster. Among them, and the most concerning, is childcare and how this undervalued industry is an indisputable domino in our country’s current economic fall.
After months-long closures and dramatically reduced classroom sizes, childcare providers have struggled to reopen their doors this year. Locally, the YMCA of Greater Toledo has noted that: Last year, their organization had 1,350 children enrolled, offering high-quality educational care at 19 sites. In September, just 461 children were enrolled at 10 sites.
A lack of childcare is not only concerning for the long-term academic success of our community’s children – it’s also taking a great financial toll on working mothers.
Recently, the U.S. Labor Department reported that, “865,000 women over 20 dropped out of the American workforce compared to 216,000 men in the same age group.” This is predominately attributed to at-home virtual schooling and unstable, or a lack of affordable, (in-close-proximity) childcare. All these factors statistically have a greater impact on working women, who are more likely to stay at home with a child than their working male peers.
In a report from The Washington Post, economic correspondents have dubbed the country’s financial downturn, caused by the pandemic, the most unequal in modern U.S. history. Mothers of children ages six to 12 have, and are, experiencing steeper unemployment levels than fathers of children of the same age.
Racial disparities go even deeper, where 61 percent of jobs lost by white women have indeed been recovered since the pandemic began. Whereas only 34 percent of jobs lost by Black women have been recovered.
The Post additionally notes that, “Nearly 30 percent of Black women work in services, compared with only a fifth of white women…often [facing] discrimination in the hiring process…It took until 2018 for Black women’s employment to recover from the Great Recession. Now almost all of those hard-won gains have been erased.”
In an analysis of Census Bureau data and other troubling statistics from ABC’s Good Morning America, “The number of women who cited childcare or family responsibilities as reason for leaving the workforce increased 178 percent, while the number of men citing it less than doubled.”
“Working moms total about 23.5 million in the U.S., or nearly one-third of all employed women, according to Census data…The difficulty is even worse for women of color, who report higher levels of difficulty finding child care than white mothers, who often live in so-called ‘daycare deserts,’ research shows, and who face even greater income inequality than white women.”
One would assume that the jeopardization of 23.5 million individuals possibly not returning to work in full-time or part-time capacity would trigger a wave of anxiety for any economist or policymaker. Yet, little action has been taken at the national level to support childcare, which could allow working mothers to continue their careers like any other professional.
With the passing of the CARES Act in late March, many childcare providers became applicable for small business loans, a.k.a. SBA loans, for things like staff payroll and operations. Though providers were thankful for this assistance, the dollars leveraged were minimal compared to what was really needed, with some entities saying that dollars weren’t received until early August…far too late.
Since then, Congress has proposed a myriad of actions to strengthen the childcare industry and assist providers, like the HEROES Act, which allocated $7 billion to the childcare industry, passed by the House and not taken-up by the Senate. The House also passed the Child Care is Essential Act, a great step forward in prioritizing childcare, that allocated $50 billion to the industry, not taken up by the Senate. The Senate’s “Skinny Bill” (HEALS Act) gave $15 billion to support childcare but failed. Recently the House re-introduced and passed the HEROES Act, where $57 billion would be allocated to the childcare industry, but whether or not this piece will become a reality is still up in the air.
Our eyes may widen at such large numbers, but let’s not forget that the Annie E. Casey Foundation estimates there are a little over 15 million children under the age of six living in the U.S. with all available parents in the workforce, as of 2018. That doesn’t include the number of school-agers who will now need care because of online learning.
This is why United Way of Greater Toledo is urging our fellow advocates and community members to reach out to your federally elected officials and ensure that they prioritize childcare. You can do this today by visiting Groundwork Ohio to send a pre-written email to your federal representative. And, hopefully, after this virus finally passes, we will continue to push that childcare is not forgotten in future policy conversations.
We can no longer afford for childcare to be seen as this very one-dimensional thing – a place where a child goes to be “watched.”
Providers are not babysitters, they’re educators, preparing kids for kindergarten or ensuring they’re ready to move on to the next grade. They give children a safe space to go before, during or after school. They sometimes act as a second or third parent for moms and dads doing their best to go to work and provide for their family. To call their services “essential” feels like an understatement, and a lack of childcare acts as a ripple effect that goes on to threaten so much more…
It’s most concerning that the presence, voices and ideas of women could be absent from our professional spaces, more than they already were. With legislative inaction and baseless policies, our collective society is essentially condoning the idea that, our economy will eventually recover. That industry will be revived again. That the lived experiences of working moms, the expertise of working moms, the intrinsic value that working moms bring to the corporate table or factory floor, is expendable and unnecessary in this process of moving forward as a country.
Stand up for working moms and call or write your federally elected officials today.
This blog post was written by Lucas Camuso-Stall, Sr. Dir., Public Relations & Advocacy