Pressure is mounting on all sides to come up with a plan to restart the American economy, with the White House as well as governors of both parties struggling to create a way forward that ensures our health and safety while allowing more people to return to work.
At a White House press conference following the April 16 release of the government's phased guidelines for reopening the economy, a (female) reporter asked President Trump how parents who are sent back to work should handle child care if schools and daycares had yet to reopen.
The President's response was, "I think the schools are going to be open soon...I think a lot of governors are already talking about schools being open."
While two governors—Gov. Steve Pollack of Montana (D) and Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming (R)—have indeed talked about reopening schools before the end of the school year, in the vast majority of states, schools are expected to be closed until the fall.
Where does that leave working parents?
In parts of the country where schools, day cares, afterschool programs and childcare providers are still closed or operating at lower capacity to preserve social distancing, will working parents be forced to choose between caring for their children and losing their jobs?
It's not as if working parents make up a negligible percentage of the workforce in America. The Department of Labor reports that 93% of fathers and 71% of mothers in America participate in the workforce—they're either employed or trying to be. Even among mothers of children under the age of three, the workforce participation rate is over 50%, and for mothers of older children, the rate is as high as 76%.
The U.S. labor force is estimated at around 164 million people—of which working parents make up slightly less than half. Of the nation's 82.6 million families, 81.1% had at least one employed family member in 2019. Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40% of households with children under 18.
Working parents in this country are accustomed to challenging conditions. Unaffordable childcare, childcare deserts and a lack of paid parental leave for most parents are all considered status quo, old news, the price of admission to American parenthood. But at the very least, parents of school-age children could rely on a public school system that cared for and educated their kids for about 70% of the working day. Now even that minimal safety net is gone (and as many a teacher will tell you, equating school and childcare is one of those things that makes teachers see red).
But with working parents making a significant percentage of the very economy we are all so eager to see up and humming again, there's got to be at least some consideration of what will happen to parents when businesses expect us to show up and there's still no care or education in place for our kids. Airlines got billions of dollars in federal bailout money—imagine what that level of relief could do to help keep the struggling child care industry afloat.
The numbers are clear: There is no reopening the economy until there's a solution for working parents. Period.
[A version of this post was originally published April 29, 2020. It has been updated.]
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