Economies are reopening, but the child care question persists
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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.
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