A lack of societal support for childcare and the people who provide it was evident to parents long before the pandemic. Finding a day care that was affordable and had a spot available could feel nearly impossible, especially for parents who live in childcare deserts.
Pre-pandemic American parents had to build their careers and lives on the wobbly, makeshift scaffolding that was the U.S. childcare infrastructure. It was hard, but at least there was something to stand on. In 2020, that scaffolding is rusting away and parents—and the mostly female and disproportionately Black workforce—are being left to fall.
This week, a new survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children found more than 40% of the nation's childcare centers say they will be forced to shut down if they don't get additional funding. And realities are even worse for minority-owned programs—a full 50% of minority-owned childcare centers are certain they will have to close if they don't get help.
Even before COVID-19, America didn't have enough childcare spots for all the families that need them. After COVID-19, there will be even fewer.
"As a country, we have a choice to make," says Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Are we going to continue to underfund and undervalue a system that is the backbone to the rest of the economy or are we going to make the necessary investments that recognize the essential nature of child care?"
Rhian and her colleagues are asking Congress to make substantial investments to stabilize child care and early childhood education in America.
Back in May, the childcare industry asked for $50 billion from Congress. The HEROS Act passed the House that month with only $7 billion going to childcare (for context, the airline industry got $32 billion under the CARES Act, which passed the Senate in March). The HEROES Act is still waiting to pass the Senate, and childcare operators are still waiting for help.
The NAEYC survey shows that while Paycheck Protection Program (under the CARES Act) did help childcare operators stay afloat temporarily, it benefited large childcare centers more than smaller day cares and day homes, and only about 50% of minority-owned childcare businesses.
The PPP helped, but it can't make up for the challenges centers face as they are forced to limit class sizes due to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With half as many kids, they're making half as much money but still paying rent, utilities and salaries. It doesn't take a math genius to see how this pandemic might kill an already ailing industry.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, hundreds of thousands of childcare workers lost their jobs during the early months of the pandemic, and the projected future growth for the occupation is slower than the average for all occupations.
"Parents or guardians who work will continue to need the assistance of childcare workers," the Bureau notes. "In addition, the demand for preschools and childcare facilities, and consequently childcare workers, should remain strong because early childhood education is widely recognized as important for a child's intellectual and emotional development. However, the increasing cost of childcare may reduce demand for childcare workers."
That statement, as posted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows that there is a real recognition all levels of government that America's childcare system is broken and just does not make sense.
Seriously—the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics says we need childcare workers, but that the median wage is only $11.65 an hour in an industry that is becoming so unaffordable that demand is being reduced. It doesn't make sense.
What makes sense is looking at childcare as the economic necessity it is.
According to Northeastern University economics professor Alicia Sasser Modestino, 13% of working parents had to quit a job or reduce hours due to lack of childcare between May and June, and as University of Arkansas professor Gema Zamarro's research proves, mothers are disproportionately affected.
Moms are losing their jobs and losing hope for the future, because how will parents ever get back on track when nearly half the childcare spots are about to evaporate? And if moms can't get back on track neither can America.
That's why more than 100 economists wrote an open letter to Congress stressing how "quality, affordable child care is an essential precondition for a successful economic recovery."
That's why Washington Sen. Patty Murray (D) introduced the Child Care is Essential Act, which would provide the $50 billion the industry is looking for.
With those Ds beside lawmakers names, it may seem like this is a partisan issue, but it really isn't. Back in April polls suggested there was bipartisan support for funding the childcare industry during the COVID-19 crisis, with 82% of Republicans agreeing with 94% of Democrats that America needs this is order to recover economically.
Then in May, 23 Republican and Democratic Senators co-signed a letter stating their concern that "child care providers will be unable to weather the storm without additional relief."
They wrote: "The CARES Act provided much-needed relief for child care providers and families across the country. As Congress considers the next round of relief legislation, we urge leadership to build on its efforts to provide more support for child care so we can effectively serve the needs of essential workers in the short term, and ensure that parents can return to work as our economy recovers."
You don't need to be an economist to know that American families and childcare workers need help. The future of the country depends on it.