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

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

Read More


As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.