COVID-19

Child care, an industry struggling even before COVID-19, now in dire need

Erika Beras Jun 24, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Child care, an industry struggling even before COVID-19, now in dire need

Erika Beras Jun 24, 2020
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
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The child care industry in this country wasn’t in great shape before the pandemic. Advocates and child care workers say COVID-19 has pushed it to the brink of collapse, as centers have been forced to close or operate with greatly-reduced enrollment.

About 350,000 child care workers are currently out of a job. On Tuesday, the House Worker and Family Support Subcommittee held a hearing on the crisis.

Over the last few months, Lynnika Butler in Eureka, California, has been juggling working from home and taking care of her 4-year-old son.

“And we’re exhausted by it,” Butler said. “I mean, we want him back in daycare so bad, just to give us all sanity break and get back with kids. But, you know, it seems crazy.”

Crazy, because a day care center is kind of a super-spreader event waiting to happen.

“So we just have to like just stretch it out as long as we can,” Butler said. “I don’t know any better thing to do.”

But even while she’s keeping her son away from the daycare center, Butler is worried it could close.

“Then we’d have this whole new conundrum because I don’t know where we would go for daycare,” she said.

Lots of daycare facilities might end up closing said Myra Jones-Taylor, chief policy officer at Zero to Three, a nonprofit child care advocacy group.

“We worry that most of these programs will not be able to reopen once the economy reopens,” Jones-Taylor said. “We are talking about an industry that is already operating at razor-thin margins.”

Now daycare centers may also have to follow new safety guidelines, with more staff per child, social distancing and staggered hours.

“There’s the cleaning supplies, there’s the actual personal protective equipment, there’s the time taken to sterilize the building every night, or sterilize equipment, or clean up in between things in that extra way,” said Gina Adams, a fellow at the Urban Institute. “All those things — when you talk about time and equipment — all those equal money.”

Disruption in child care will disproportionately affect women, who make up 90% of child care workers, and who bear most of the burden of child rearing. Beth Humberd, professor at the Center for Women and Work at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, said that without child care, women will lose the professional gains they’ve made. And, rather than leave the workforce, women may resort to other options.

“A lot of these smaller, in-home daycares may just start accepting children unregulated,” Humberd said. “And so that’s going to start a whole other child care crisis.”

She said the economy simply can’t reopen without investment in child care.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Will the federal government extend the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s still unclear. Congress and President Donald Trump are deciding whether to extend the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits workers are getting because of the pandemic. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia believes the program should not be extended, and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the additional money is disincentivizing some workers from returning to their jobs. Democrats want to keep providing the money until January.

As states lift restrictions, are people going back to stores and restaurants?

States have relaxed their restrictions, and many of us have relaxed, too. Some people have started to make exceptions for visiting restaurants, if only for outdoor dining. Some are only going to places they trust are being extra cautious. But no one we’ve talked to has really gone back to normal. People just aren’t quite there yet.

Will surges in COVID-19 cases mean a return to lockdowns?

In many areas where businesses are reopening, cases of COVID-19 are trending upwards, causing some to ask if the lockdowns were lifted too soon, and if residents and businesses might have to go through it all again. So, how likely is another lockdown, of some sort? The answer depends on who you ask. Many local officials are now bullish about keeping businesses open to salvage their economies. Health experts, though, are concerned.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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