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Coronavirus is a childcare crisis that could wipe out women’s progress toward equality

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The coronavirus pandemic has hit working parents hard, and when I say working parents, I mean mostly working mothers. Unemployment is high for everyone, but it’s worse for women than for men, and women are more likely to have left the labor market or to be thinking about quitting their jobs. Relatedly, the brunt of caring for children suddenly at home all day every day is falling on women.

The childcare industry, meanwhile, is suffering, putting more than 325,000 people—overwhelmingly women, and nearly half Black, Asian, or Latino—out of work since February. If childcare centers go out of business, as threatens to happen without government help, then those women’s jobs remain gone, and other women’s ability to work is threatened by the disproportionate amount of child care they end up shouldering. The case for a major government funding program could not be clearer, but somehow it hasn’t happened.

Democrats have introduced a $50 billion aid bill in both the House and the Senate, but a month later, childcare workers and centers along with parents who need child care are all still waiting on that. The CARES Act directed some money to Child Care and Development Block Grants and to Head Start, and the HEROES Act would send more to Child Care and Development Block Grants, but that would still leave out much of the industry. And while childcare providers are theoretically eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, many haven’t been able to get those loans and the program doesn’t meet their needs in any case.

Even some congressional Republicans—mostly women—recognize the need for some kind of action. Sens. Joni Ernst and Kelly Loeffler (both of them facing challenging elections this fall) have proposed $25 billion for childcare providers. And Rep. Jackie Walorski recently explained the issue very clearly. 

If childcare centers shut down, “parents in all industries will be unable to go back to work, significantly slowing our own economic recovery,” she said. That means “Childcare is exactly the type of smart investment we should be prioritizing as we safely reopen and rebuild America’s economy.”

While Congress drags its feet, largely but not entirely thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, women are bearing an immense burden. For women in two-income families, it’s one kind of burden—that of trying to do paid work while taking on the lion’s share of child care as well. There are some toweringly shitty men out there, but this is a structural issue, not just a question of individual relationships. As much of an emergency as this is for women in two-income families, though, “in families headed by single mothers, there’s often simply no one else to take on the responsibility,” Prism’s Ashton Lattimore wrote last month. “That makes childcare availability all the more critical, especially for mothers of color like Cecilia, who is Mexican American, as women of color are more likely to be their household’s primary earner or a co-breadwinner.”

Virtually everyone is struggling in the pandemic, but child care shows us how unevenly the challenges fall. Women are hit harder than men. Black women and other women of color are hit harder than white women. And if it doesn’t get fixed, the consequences will be dire. “We need to stabilize the childcare system or we won’t have a robust economic recovery,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici. “Not getting this stuff in place will mean women will be the ones who are more likely to have to stay home,” said the Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz—and if women who have previously worked are pushed to stay home while hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear from an industry dominated by women and with many many Black, Asian, and Latina workers, decades of efforts toward equality get wiped out.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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A lack of child care is keeping women on unemployment rolls

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Women’s participation in the workforce — which is closely tied to access to child care — has dropped at a faster clip than men’s since the early spring.

A lack of safe and affordable child care amid the coronavirus pandemic is keeping many working parents from returning to the office as more companies call employees back to their jobs — threatening to extend the economic crisis and erode decades of gains for women in the workplace.

The U.S. is experiencing its highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression, even as businesses begin to reopen. More than 20 million American workers are receiving jobless benefits. Another 1.48 million applied for jobless aid last week, the Department of Labor said Thursday.

The burden is disproportionately falling on women, who are more likely to have been laid off, to have left the labor market or to be considering quitting their jobs so they can manage family responsibilities, Labor Department data, academic research and surveys show.

And the problem is on track to only get worse: Continued shutdowns and the need to implement costly safety and social distancing measures are threatening to run so many child care providers out of business that the country could permanently lose an estimated half of its capacity. Between February and April of this year, more than 1 in 3 jobs in child day care services had been erasedbefore the industry began to recover slightly in May, according to Labor Department data.

Left unaddressed, the issue will affect tens of millions of Americans. More than 325,000 child care workers have already lost their jobs since February. And more than 33 million American families have children under the age of 18. In nearly two-thirds of married-couple families with kids, both parents were working as of last year.

President Donald Trump compounded the crisis when he issued an executive order on Monday restricting certain types of foreign worker visas, including J visas used by au pairs, teachers and camp counselors.

Now, economists and industry experts are calling on Congress to funnel billions of dollars into child care, arguing that doing so would have the double-barreled benefit of providing jobs for workers in the industry while allowing working parents to return to the office. That in turn, they say, would leave everyone with more income to spend in their communities — thus accelerating the recovery.

“If you don’t fund this one, many other industries are going to pay a hidden price,” said Art Rolnick, the former director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and an expert on child development and social policy.

“You won’t find a better stimulant than this industry,” he added. “That money will get spent, and it will get multiplied in the neighborhood.”

In March, as the pandemic was just getting under way, the unemployment rate for both adult men and women was 4 percent. Two months later, that rate jumped up by 7.6 percentage points for men, but nearly 10 percentage points for women.

Women’s participation in the workforce — which is closely tied to access to child care — has also dropped at a faster clip than men’s since the early spring. While 61 percent of men over the age of 20 were employed in May, less than half of women were, the data show.

“We still live in a world where women shoulder more of the responsibilities for care work,” said Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Labor Department. “Not getting this stuff in place will mean women will be the ones who are more likely to have to stay home.”

Within the child care industry, too, a staggering 93 percent of jobs are held by women, according to Labor Department data, and 45.3 percent are Black, Asian or Latino. Making sure the sector stays afloat — or even strengthens — could have an outsized impact on the economic well-being of those demographics.

“It’ll be crucial that that investment is made so that these are actually decent jobs for the people who are holding them,” said Shierholz, now policy director at the Economic Policy Institute.

More than 100 economists wrote an open letter to Congress this week highlighting the need for at least $50 billion in aid for the child care industry, calling it “an essential precondition for a successful economic recovery.” Congressional Democrats have been pushing the same idea since late May, when Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Child Care Is Essential Act.

“This is a crisis,” DeLauro said. “This is not unlike a manufacturing crisis, an airline crisis, all of the other things that are out there.”

“If you cannot make families feel that their kids are going to be safe and secure, in a safe environment, in a learning environment, we’re not going to get our economy back on track,” she said.

DeLauro’s bill would appropriate $50 billion for grants that help child care providers affected by the coronavirus pandemic cover their expenses. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is the lead sponsor of the Senate version.

It’s a level of investment that would be significantly higher than what Congress has previously considered: The CARES Act appropriated $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, as well as $750 million for the Head Start program. The HEROES Act, the House-passed Democratic proposal for the next round of aid, would appropriate $7 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants.

“We know that’s not enough,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said. “We need to stabilize the child care system or we won’t have a robust economic recovery.”

“It is a piece — of course, we need to continue with testing and physical distancing and all those other things — but for people going back to work, these are really long-term ramifications if we don’t address this.”

The issue has gained more prominence in recent weeks as every state begins to reopen its doors and Congress continues to debate how best to get employees back to work quickly and safely. Forty-one state and local chambers of commerce called on lawmakers earlier this month to include targeted assistance to child care centers as part of its next coronavirus response package.

Five Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have written to the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration to ask for clear guidance ensuring that child care providers have access to loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, the government-backed emergency program for small businesses. They cited one analysis showing that family child care homes were seeing an approval rate of roughly 25 percent.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also pledged that the issue “will get very big attention” and that when it comes to the economic recovery and women’s participation in the workforce, child care is “key to it all.”

But the effort will need bipartisan support to be successful, and it remains unclear whether Republicans are willing to sign on.

Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia offered a resolution last month proposing that the next coronavirus relief package include $25 billion for child care providers. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said this week that he would support sending tens of billions of dollars to aid schools and colleges, acknowledging that doing so would help parents and the economy. But he did not comment on child care specifically, and his office did not respond to a request for comment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans have said they want to continue monitoring economic conditions and CARES Act spending before they make decisions on what further stimulus aid might be needed.

In the House, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said on a recent press call with reporters that child care is “an important part of returning to work” and that he would be willing to discuss with Democrats how to maximize the number of child care facilities that can remain open.

At a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing Tuesday focused on the issue, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) went a step further, saying that the forced shutdown of a large portion of child care providers across the country would mean “parents in all industries will be unable to go back to work, significantly slowing our own economic recovery.”

“Child care is exactly the type of smart investment we should be prioritizing as we safely reopen and rebuild America’s economy,” Walorski said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Parents are ready to return to work, but where will their kids go?

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The resurgence of California’s economy — the fifth largest in the world — could rest on one sector shattered by the pandemic: child care.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The resurgence of California’s economy — the fifth largest in the world — could rest on one sector in particular that’s been shattered by the pandemic: child care.

Steep revenue losses and costly new health and safety requirements are putting beleaguered child care programs out of existence in the high-cost state just as more parents return to the workplace. Even a relatively small percentage of closures could have an outsize effect given pre-pandemic shortages, experts say.

That could sideline workers and hamper recovery efforts, particularly in California’s signature tourism, entertainment and dining sectors where remote work is simply not possible. States across the country are experiencing the same challenge as more parents are ready to return to work but may have few options for their children.

“I really feel like we can’t reopen the economy until we open our child care centers, and I would extend that to K-12 as well,” said California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who ran an early education nonprofit before entering politics.

In sectors such as leisure and hospitality, as well as many jobs in health care, construction and manufacturing, “there is very little ability to work from home and be able to juggle your hours around child care,” said Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

The situation also has a disproportionate effect on women, she said, who remain more likely to assume the burden of caring for children and elders, even if they work outside the home.

Further complicating the child care equation is the K-12 school system, which educates some 6 million children in California. The state Department of Education suggested last week that schools could reopen for as few as two days a week to maintain smaller group sizes and social distancing.

The availability of before- and after-school programs will be critical, said Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association. “If that doesn’t happen, it’s going to be a mess because that really provided a lot of affordable child care for a lot of folks,” she said.

The CARES Act provided an additional $3.5 billion to help child care programs weather the pandemic, of which California received $350 million. Some child care centers also managed to receive federal aid under the Paycheck Protection Program, buying them time to figure out a plan. But advocates say more is needed from Washington, along the lines of a new, $50 billion proposal from Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

“The airlines got a huge subsidy,” said Eric Sonnenfeld of the Tulare County Office of Education, which runs 22 early childhood education programs in the heart of California’s Central Valley. “We’re looking to something of the same degree.”

In California, 72 percent of home-based day cares surveyed in late April reported they had remained open through the pandemic, caring for children of essential workers, according to a late April poll of child care providers by the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. 

But just 34 percent of the state’s licensed centers — which, combined, have roughly twice the capacity as home-based providers — kept their doors open this spring, it found.

Those reductions came on top of widespread closures of campus-based child care for school-age children as California districts ended physical classes in mid-March.

California on Friday allowed a wide array of sectors to reopen, which is sure to increase demand for child care. But centers that closed abruptly in March are figuring out if, when and how to reopen with cohorts of just 10 children, as the CDC has recommended. In many cases, that’s half the number of children that once shared a classroom. 

Like K-12 schools, child care centers face a difficult choice to maintain social distancing, especially in a recession. They could hire more staff and acquire additional space. Or they could reduce their enrollment. Both come with cost pressures, either through greater expenses or lower revenues, in a sector that historically has operated on the thinnest of margins.

Programs across the country are in the same precarious position as they try to adapt to the costly new requirements, said Beth Bye, a former Connecticut state senator who now leads that state’s Office of Early Childhood.

“The economic model doesn’t work that well,” Bye said of child care programs generally. “Now you take a business that was barely holding on and say, ‘You can take half as many kids.’ The math just doesn’t work.”

Sonnenfeld says he has been getting calls from Tulare County parents, wondering when they can once again send their kids to his county’s state preschool and Head Start programs. He still doesn’t have a firm answer.

“Businesses are reopening, restaurants are reopening, retail is reopening again,” he said, “but our county superintendent has been very adamant that it has to be safe — not only for students, but for staff — to return.”

While many regions will lack enough child care to meet demand, some providers say they can’t easily replace long-enrolled families choosing to stay home.

In addition to the continuing spread of the virus — and a lack of data on the transmission of Covid-19 by asymptomatic children — is a problem of reliable demand: Some parents might keep their children home as a health precaution or because they’re out of work. 

Yessika Magdaleno stayed open when the pandemic hit, caring for the children of nurses, fast food workers and grocery store employees at her home in the Orange County city of Garden Grove. But earlier this month she said nine of the 16 children who had been in her care before the pandemic had not returned. 

“I don’t know after June how we’re going to survive if more than half of my children are not here,” she said. 

Some parents haven’t even heard from their children’s programs amid the chaos of the pandemic, said Mary Ignatius, a longtime organizer for Parent Voices, a parent-led organizing effort. 

“Just figuring out who’s going to be open when everything goes ‘back to normal’ is going to be a test,” Ignatius said. “I think that’s been a lingering pit in every parent’s stomach: ‘I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know what this new normal is going to look like.'”

In California, child care has some important allies in the Legislature, including Rendon (D-Lakewood). He said he first met Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), now the state Senate’s budget chair, 20 years ago at a rally for early education funding. 

Legislative leaders rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to cut reimbursement rates for state-subsidized child care by 10 percent, a move the governor himself would cancel if federal leaders provide budget relief. Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) called that cut “a nonstarter,” saying in an interview that it would “be a death knell for a lot of these programs.”

Newsom in April waived certain eligibility restrictions for state child care assistance to help essential workers who may not have previously qualified for subsidies. He also introduced an online portal to help connect families with child care, Mychildcare.ca.gov, that allows parents to search for child care facilities by ZIP code, including hundreds of new “pop-up” centers the state established in response to the pandemic.

Several lawmakers, anticipating child care challenges, are advancing bills to expand job-protected leave for working parents who need to stay home and care for their children, arguing that parents shouldn’t be forced to choose between their children’s safety and keeping their jobs.

Rendon said he worries about the effect on children’s development if they stay home from school much longer. Hand-washing and other health protocols have long been embedded in child care programs, he said, making them better positioned than other settings to open with proper precautions. 

Still, he said, “People are still quite scared. And to drop off your child, that’s a tremendous leap of faith.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Katy Murphy covers consumer regulations with a focus on data privacy for POLITICO California. Before joining the team, she was a one-woman Capitol bureau for the The Mercury News and East Bay Times and previously covered K-12 and higher education for more than a decade, based in the Bay Area.


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How to Remain Professional Whilst Caring for Children at Home?

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As a parent of the three children, all of which are under 11, the dramatic shift to remote working from home for students and professionals alike has been a sudden and challenging shake up to the daily routine.

The million-dollar question for all parents who now find themselves acting as a full time parent and professional has become ‘how do I juggle my commitments?’. The shift of focus has been from trying to decide whether we are dressed appropriately for a video call to ‘mummy, can you help me with…’.

So, how do you remain professional and working efficiently whilst your responsibilities are pulling you in a number of different directions? I’ve complied a list of some methods that I have found to be useful:

Regardless of how structured you are, some form of timetable will be necessary

Whether this is as detailed as an implementation plan from work, with activity, who, when, resources required and challenges, or whether you find a more relaxed approach works for your family, with simply a range of suggested activities, with breaks and lunch interspersed; some structure will be needed to allow you to prepare for the challenges that each day will bring.

Arrange your calls and their activities accordingly  

Be honest with your boss, explain that you are having to juggle more than normal now; in the main they will understand and if a regular call must be moved back by half an hour, so be it.  Consider how long a call is going to last? To avoid interruption, what activity will take them through this period?

Make a to do list 

I love a list and generally have one on the go to just get by, however in times like this maybe a more sophisticated, prioritised list is required.  What is urgent and what is a nice to do, be realistic about what you can achieve. Are there time robbers cropping up which can be put on hold whilst you get through the next few weeks.  Do not let yourself get distracted with easier things to do like laundry, and although for most of us, there will be a reliance on technology in our work, try to avoid social media during the day, or set yourself some specific time for a social media catch up. 

When preparing for your day, anticipate demands 

If you have suggested colouring as an activity, ensure you provide paper and pens, so you don’t get interrupted with requests for these. Unfortunately, if your children are like mine, no they can’t find them themselves!  If you suggest screen time, make sure batteries are charged.  Don’t beat yourself up about encouraging screen time, you won’t be alone. If you have a longer call and you know there will be demands for food, have something suitable prepared that you can give them.

Balance your time

Accept that you are going to struggle to do six back-to-back calls from 9am til 4pm, you aren’t superhuman, and you do have your parenting role which will also require your attention.  Explain to the children that you are needing to balance your time, however, factor in some time with them so they have something to look forward to.    

Stick to a daily routine

Although this sounds funny, I have found that sticking to the daily non-work routine of getting dressed, ensuring we stick to breakfast/lunch/dinner and also sticking to bedtime routines, as much as possible, has maintained some normality and without this it is easy to fall into the ‘what day is it trap?’.

Define your workspace

Depending on what space you have, try and define yourself a quiet place to work and explain to the children that this is the working or quiet area.  I’ve found myself referring to my office as the staff room, a room they are used to not entering!

Be flexible with your working hours

You may find it easier to flex your working day so starting early or working into the evening if the children are younger and likely to be tucked up in bed by 7pm.  Again, be honest with your company and speak to them about this idea. If you partner is also working from home some sort of rota may work for you if the children are of an age that need supervision. Are you able to organise your important calls at different times?

Remember, you aren’t on your own

You aren’t on your own in this weird time.  Many of your colleagues, student peers, and tutors are also having to change working practices.  Utilise forums/discussion groups/networking groups to retain some level of sanity.  Talking about issues, sharing frustrations often makes it all more manageable.

If nothing else works, try bribery!

Introduce some sort of reward chart if your children are still interested in stickers or for older children, barter in time, if they allow you some quiet time to make that important call, then they can have extra screen time! 

I am sure throughout the coming weeks you will find your own tips and tricks for maintain a balance that suits you and your family.  It’s a culture change for everyone, and just like changing the culture in your organisation, this isn’t going to happen overnight, there will be bumps in the road. Remember one of the main rules about changing a culture is taking everyone with you.  If everyone is still happy, I would say you are winning.

This blog originally appeared at MOL on April 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jane Hawksworth is Associate Tutor at MOL, her HR career spanned 14 years across a range of industries, and she has worked for MOL since 2009 whilst raising her family, and has tutored on a number of level 7 programmes.


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Childcare costs are sucking U.S. parents dry and still leaving early childhood teachers in poverty

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Parents in the U.S. pay a staggering amount for care for their young children—and here, as in so many other areas, the support they get from their government falls short of what peer nations provide. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows just how big the problem is, and what it’s costing the economy.

With government spending predictably lagging other countries (as a share of GDP), parents spend $42 billion a year on early care and education. It’s so expensive that many parents leave the paid workforce or scale back their hours, losing $30-35 billion in the process.

Meanwhile, the patchwork early care and education system leaves many teachers wildly underpaid, with a median of $25,218 a year in salry. Almost one in five live in poverty. The teacher at a preschool makes dramatically less than the kindergarten teacher who gets the same kids a year later.

Several of the Democrats running for president have proposed major overhauls of this broken system: universal childcare was one of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s first policy plans, Sen. Bernie Sanders has endorsed universal childcare in broader strokes, and Pete Buttigieg has an ambitious plan as well.

Check out the details of early care and education funding for your state.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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33% of Parents Went Into Debt to Pay for Summer Childcare in 2018

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Kids don’t necessarily look forward to the end of summer break, but for working parents in America, the start of a new school year can mean relief from the months of uncertainty, stress and financial cost that comes with having few viable childcare options when school’s out. A lack of childcare infrastructure in the United States leaves many working families scrambling to find someone to watch their children, desperately trying to keep their kids safe while they’re at work.

But it’s not just a summer problem. For working families, especially single-parent households, finding quality, affordable and accessible day care can be a year-round struggle—one that more hot-button issues like healthcare and jobs often take priority over when elections come around. Some 2020 Democratic candidates want to change that: Elizabeth Warren has made government-funded universal childcare a tenet of her campaign strategy, a concept several other candidates also support.

These 11 statistics show why childcare is such a source of anxiety for American families:

$9,600 – Average annual cost of childcare nationwide, per child, in 2017

55% – People who said childcare costs were a significant financial challenge in 2018

33% – Parents who went into debt to pay for summer childcare in 2018

51% – People living in “childcare deserts” (areas with three times more children than licensed childcare slots) in 2017

19 – States whose childcare assistance programs had waitlists or frozen intake in 2018

67% – Children who have all available parents working outside the industry home as of 2017

16% – Private-industry employees who had access to paid family leave in 2018

37% – Average portion of annual income that single parents spend on childcare

7% – Recommended portion of annual income to be spent on childcare, according to the Department of Health and Human Services

18.3% – Mothers with children ages 3 and younger working outside the home for a median wage of $10.50 or less in 2016

$23,240 – Median annual income for childcare workers in 2018

 

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on October 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.


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