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

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

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

Erika Beras Jun 24, 2020
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

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

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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