Economies are reopening, but the child care question persists

Meghan McCarty Carino Jun 8, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
A mother helps her daughters with schoolwork in March. As the economy opens back up, school programs remain shut down. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Economies are reopening, but the child care question persists

Meghan McCarty Carino Jun 8, 2020
A mother helps her daughters with schoolwork in March. As the economy opens back up, school programs remain shut down. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Construction, manufacturing and some retail operations have been cleared to resume Monday in New York City, the hardest-hit and longest shut-down place in America. While many other areas of the country have been open for a month or more, the issue of what to do with children as we head back to work is still kind of a big question mark.

School programs remain shut, as do camps in many places, and while day care providers in most states are allowed to open up again, that’s easier said than done.

Tom Wood runs his own production company in Los Angeles — or at least he did before the pandemic shut day care and made him a full-time caregiver to his twin 2-year-olds.

He needs to send the kids back to day care to resume his work, and he’s paid to save their spots, but he’s worried.

“Every health expert is saying, sure, everything can reopen as long as you’re 6 feet away, and you wear a mask and don’t go indoors,” he said. “Day care is the opposite of that.”

Personal decisions like his could decide the health of an industry already hurting before the pandemic and now at a breaking point.

Paula Drew, who works with day care programs for the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, said providers — who operate on razor thin margins in the best of times — can’t afford to stay closed. But reopening comes with new liability, extra costs and seemingly impossible safety standards.

“In Milwaukee, you can only have 25% of your capacity,” Drew said. “There’s no way that they can afford to operate.”

She anticipates up to half the programs she works with could close down in coming months.

A survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children found most child care providers were losing income and couldn’t survive a closure of a month or less.

“Some facilities that have shuttered their doors are not going to open again,” said Caitlyn Collins, a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis.

The risk is particularly acute, she said, among Black-owned child care providers and those who serve low-income families, which could exacerbate gender and racial inequality.

Collins noted the U.S. is the only wealthy Western country without some kind of national child care program and that “the work of caring for other people in the United States is historically devalued.”

But she said the pandemic could be a turning point. Congress is considering several proposals to inject billions of dollars into the industry as the link between child care and economic growth becomes harder to ignore. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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