Opinion | Finance

The coronavirus crisis has cut the child care sector

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The coronavirus crisis has caused a child care crisis. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics report reveal that - despite small gains in May - the child care industry has lost 326,000 workers since February - roughly 31 percent of all jobs across the sector nationwide. This unprecedented decline comes after months of sustained increases in child care jobs in 2019 and early 2020. Behind those lost jobs are more than 100,000 closed child care programs that may never reopen and millions of children who may not have a trusted provider to return to when their parents head back to work. 

The sector's devastation disproportionately harms workers and families of color, entrenching and exacerbating long-standing racial and gender inequities in child care. Women of color are overrepresented in the child care workforce, meaning that it will be disproportionately black, Latina and Native women who are grappling with the loss of wages as programs shutter. Programs serving families with moderate or lower incomes - again disproportionately families of color - may be more vulnerable to permanent closure because families are unable to make tuition payments due to lost wages or jobs.

Advocates have called for at least $50 billion in direct, designated federal funding to mitigate the fallout for providers and families. So far, relief bills have failed to deliver the level of support the system desperately needs. But it's not too late for Congress to act. Last week, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Was.), along with other members of the House and Senate, introduced the bicameral Child Care is Essential Act, which would provide $50 billion in relief funding to the child care sector. The act would fund state-administered grants to child care providers to meet fixed costs, fully compensate staff and modify services to comply with public health guidelines while eliminating child care payments for families.

We cannot understate the consequences of inaction. Without significant public relief, it won't just be hundreds of thousands of child care providers who are out of work. Widespread closures of child care centers and family child care homes will also affect millions of parents who depend on child care to work and provide for their families. For some parents - particularly mothers - the loss of their child care provider will keep them out of the workforce entirely. Others who must work to put food on the table will have no choice but to find care somewheremeaning children could end up with caregivers who can provide safety but may not be able to offer the enriching environments essential for healthy child development. In the face of unprecedented levels of uncertainty wrought by the pandemic, children deserve to be able to return to the stable, loving caregivers they know and trust.

Our nation has failed to treat child care like the public good it is. Now, millions of women who care for our children each day are paying the price for that choice. We owe it to them and the families who rely on them to stabilize the sector - that means providing immediate relief now and continuing to make substantial, ongoing investments in structural reforms. Congress can take the first step by passing the Child Care Is Essential Act. Our future depends on it. 

Rebecca Ullrich is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) in Washington, D.C., a national, nonpartisan anti-poverty organization that advances policy solutions for people with low incomes. Kate Gallagher Robbins is the director of child care and early education at CLASP.

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