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The State of Childcare and Working Families

Closed playground due to COVID-19

Amid the pandemic, many parents have renewed childcare concerns. Often women’s participation in the workforce is linked to safe and affordable childcare. “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 childcare 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.

More than 325,000 childcare workers have already lost their jobs since February as several have closed permanently this includes camp and aftercare programs. 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.

The Child Care is Essential Act introduced by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeanne Shaheen, (D-N.H.) and Patty Murray, (D-Wash.) would create a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund to help centers remain open and operational throughout the pandemic. The fund would provide grants to offset the cost of additional health policies in childcare centers and would ensure the payment of childcare workers reflects the additional cost of providing care amidst the pandemic. Shana Bartley—director of community partnerships, income security, and child care and early learning at National Women's Law Center—as reported in a Politico article believes that this disregard for the child care sector is rooted in systemic racism:

“The workers providing this care, typically women, are underpaid and undervalued precisely because they are the ones doing this work. Black women, in particular, have cared for America’s children for centuries—first as enslaved people and then employed as low-paid workers. It’s not by accident that childcare funding has been consistently overlooked, even before the COVID-19 crisis.”

But what can be done now as parents called back to work scramble to find affordable, safe, and reliable childcare? According to Senator Hassan, “Our economy simply cannot recover if parents cannot go back to work because they do not have access to safe, reliable childcare. Our bill makes significant investments in childcare centers that have not only been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic but now also face added challenges in instituting new health and safety policies to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.”

Let’s hope for the much-needed investment in childcare for the sake of working parents, childcare workers, children, and the economy.

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