One of the less-discussed critical issues facing families during the Covid-19 pandemic is the balancing act of working from home and taking care of children. When it seemed that the shelter-in-place orders would be temporary, the mentality was that—while challenging—parents could figure out ways to accommodate both their careers and taking care of and homeschooling their children.
With the resurgence of Covid-19, it now looks like a large number of states will reclose to certain degrees and this problem just won’t go away. Something will have to give. Many parents are now having to decide whether they should quit their jobs to focus on attending to their children, frantically juggle both child rearing and working at home or send their children to day care—providing that there is availability and it’s safe.
The numbers involved are substantial. More than 41 million workers between the ages of 18 and 64 cared for a child under the age of 18, as of 2018. Roughly 34 million were under 14 years of age, according to the Brookings Institution.
To complicate matters, day care centers across the county were told to shut down, as schools were also closed. Vox reported, “At the peak of closures, 55.1 million students at K-12 schools around the country were affected, according to Education Week. An additional 5 million younger children in day care and preschool were affected as well.”
The costs of child care are exorbitant. According to a study, parents have to pay in excess of $11,000 per year for an infant to go to a child-care center. It will run roughly $10,000 for toddlers and more than $9,000 for 4-year-olds.
The United States Census data claims that about 9 million Americans left the workforce to tend to their young children. Some people were harder hit than others. Low-wage workers and single parents experienced tough situations. The burden often falls more on the woman in the household. Working Mother wrote about a recent report by a management consulting firm that found “less than one-third (32%) of employers had, were planning to or were considering having child care plans in place for working parents returning to work. Further, about half (49%) of employers did not offer caregiving navigation resources, 66% did not modify performance expectations of employees and 84% did not offer onsite or near-site child care services. Only 23% of employers surveyed will enhance their caregiving benefits.”
Joe Biden, the Democratic presumptive nominee for U.S. president, announced on Tuesday a $775 billion plan to help remedy the child-care dilemma. Biden’s program calls for the following:
- Ensure access to high-quality, affordable child care and offer universal preschool to three-and four-year olds through greater investment, expanded tax credits and sliding-scale subsidies.
- Build safe, energy-efficient, developmentally appropriate child-care facilities, including in workplaces, so that parents and guardians never again have to search in vain for a suitable child-care option.
- Treat caregivers and early childhood educators with respect and dignity, and give them the pay and benefits they deserve, training and career ladders to higher-paying jobs, the choice to join a union and bargain collectively and other fundamental work-related rights and protections.
- This plan builds on Biden’s proposals to support informal caregivers—family members or loved ones who do this work unpaid, including a $5,000 tax credit for informal caregivers, Social Security credits for people who care for their loved ones and professional and peer support for caregivers of wounded, injured or ill active-duty service members and veterans.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Biden wrote, “We have to mobilize a 21st century care and early childhood education workforce to deal with the caregiving crisis in our nation. Today, I’m delivering remarks about how we’re going to get it done,” and held a live-streaming press conference.
Biden also pointed to the problems facing day care centers. Parents are afraid to send their children there due to health-safety reasons. A survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children shows that “40% of child care centers are at risk of closing permanently in the coming months if they don’t receive an infusion of cash from the federal government.” They face the dual struggles of coping with greater costs and declines in enrollment—both due to the virus outbreak.
Whether or not it’s Biden’s plan or another, it’s becoming clear that something has to be done.