Parents continue to take time off or leave their jobs due to a lack of childcare. What makes this interesting is that we are two and a half years into the COVID-19 pandemic and childcare issues are still a problem across the country. According to a recent Household Pulse survey conducted by the Census Bureau, almost 30 percent of parents with children aged five years and younger face challenges with the juggling act of caring for their children while working.

Obstacles Keep Getting In The Way

In one month, 28 percent of parents with young children indicated they had to take unpaid leave from work to deal with childcare responsibilities. In addition, statistics show that parents will use any means possible to care for their children when there is a shortage of childcare options. For example, 38 percent have used their vacation time, while others use sick days or paid time off to meet their parental commitments. 

In addition, job losses continue to increase. For example, 23 percent of parents with infants or toddlers at home left their jobs over the past month to address childcare issues. Of that group, 6 percent claim they lost their job entirely because of their need for child care. 

Allison Johnson, the campaign director of Parents Together, a nonprofit organization, says, “It’s sort of this perfect storm of obstacles, just making things even harder for folks – even this far into the pandemic.” She explains that families are still dealing with various difficulties or disruptions to what was once a manageable routine. 

She adds, “Choices are a little bit easier now than maybe they were at the beginning. Which is certainly a bit of a relief, but it’s definitely still not easy.” Typically, women bear the burden of child care. However, men are more likely to receive employer-sponsored parental leave benefits

The numbers show that 43 percent of men are offered the benefit compared to 27 percent of women. And although men are less likely to take advantage of it – 48 percent – just 20 percent of women who received the offer did not act upon it. 

According to research conducted by Credit Karma, women will take far more drastic measures than men to remedy the childcare issue at home. For example, roughly 17 percent of women say they left their jobs after having a child. That compares to zero percent for men. Additionally, just over 33 percent of women with school-age children said they quit their jobs because they could not afford the cost of child care.

Not Enough Child Care Staff Compounds The Issue

The childcare industry is struggling. It was in trouble long before the pandemic, but COVID-19 helped to magnify the issues. Child care is expensive, and there is a severe shortage of childcare workers. 

According to a recent analysis conducted by the UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE), the number of childcare workers has dropped by 8.4 percent since February 2020. However, experts say the number is likely more significant than that as the survey did not include home-based child care providers. 

Harm To The Child Care Industry Creates A Snowball Effect

Elena Montoya, a senior research and policy associate at CSCCE, says, “All of the gains we’re seeing elsewhere have bypassed this industry – it’s just not bouncing back as quickly as everything else.” This initiative has created a snowball effect that impacts parents, children, and childcare providers. It typically means longer waitlists to get children into a program and more expensive fees as childcare services attempt to attract more staff with better wages. 

Montoya explains, “We have to address the fact that the system is funded through these really low wages that child care teachers make – and parents can’t afford to pay more.” She adds that until compensation is discussed and resolved, programs will continue to struggle with attracting and retaining qualified teachers. 

Child Care Deserts and Unaffordable Care

Statistics show that over half of the population with children live in regions across the country identified as childcare deserts. A childcare desert is a region that is either underserved by a lack of established service providers or an underserved area without room, and children end up on a waitlist for available space. This type of child care puts undue pressure on parents. 

Some innovative parents have pooled resources and independently hired their nanny with more than one family. However, that is less common than parents opting to stay home because they cannot afford the cost of child care available to them. Sometimes, it means traveling to a nearby community for the service, with transportation costs adding to childcare fees.

Federal And State Aid Is Required

The child care industry will not get any better until subsidies begin flowing. Unfortunately, that is the stance of most child care advocates. Even the Build Back Better Act signed by President Biden has not been beneficial. 

Although it did have provisions for reducing the cost of child care and building a more robust child care system, the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 stopped funding streams for many industries, including child care, and does not support paid leave. Montoya says the move is crushing. 

“The investment would have been absolutely critical.” However, she says that the federal government needs to acknowledge that childcare jobs are vital and form part of the economy’s infrastructure. She says that once this happens, there should be forward movement within the industry to help it survive.

Final Thoughts

The childcare industry has been in trouble for many years. However, the pandemic made it harder to ignore. The main issues are:

  • A lack of providers.
  • The high cost of child care.
  • The shortage of quality child care workers.

Government subsidies are common when bolstering up a lagging industry. Advocates for the child care industry state that this is another situation requiring federal and state funding to survive. Without it, more parents will leave their jobs, impacting the economy in several ways.

Sandra Chiu works as Director at Ladybug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.