More than two years into the pandemic, its impact on childcare and the daycare system has become increasingly apparent. During the onset of the pandemic, when lockdowns and social distancing measures were in full force, the daycare system was on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. Even today, when most daycare centers and preschools have returned to near-normal operations, the effects of the pandemic are still reverberating across the board.
Despite the daycare system’s pivotal and crucial role in child development and support of other essential aspects of our lives, the childcare sector nearly collapsed due to the pandemic’s economic, social, and psychological impact. Community leaders, lawmakers, early childhood experts, and other stakeholders are ready to take stock and learn from the lessons of the two-plus pandemic-ridden years.
For this reason, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, led by Rep. James E. Clyburn, convened a hearing in early March to assess how the pandemic affected the daycare systems. The committee also sought to understand better how the pandemic’s impact on the daycare sector affected the economy and families across the country.
The hearing welcomed input from various experts, witnesses, and stakeholders. They included Dr. Lea J.E. Austin, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Childcare Employment at the University of California; Gina Forbes, a parent and early childhood teacher from Brunswick, Maine; Carrie Lukas, President of the Independent Women’s Forum; and Dr. Betsey Stevenson, Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the University of Michigan.
Let’s take a quick look at some of their powerful testimonials and findings on the impact of the pandemic on the daycare system and childcare as a whole.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Forced Parents and Child Caregivers to Quit the Workforce
According to key witnesses and experts, the COVID-19 pandemic took a particularly colossal toll on the already vulnerable childcare system. Consequently, most daycare centers, preschools, and other child care programs closed shop, forcing caregivers and parents alike to leave the workforce.
Caregivers left the workforce due to the closure of most daycare centers, while parents were forced to ditch their 9 to 5 jobs to take care of their little ones at home. According to U.S. News, approximately 600,000 American working moms had quit the workforce by mid-2020 to take care of their children due to daycare closures.
Experts asserted that the pandemic shed light on not only the terrible state of the childcare system in the U.S. but also how important it is to the economic security and well-being of our communities, families, and kids. Let’s not forget that the childcare system in the United States was already in crisis mode before the pandemic hit.
The already vulnerable child care industry almost imploded when the pandemic added salt to the existing injury. So how will the pandemic’s impact on the childcare system affect working women in the long run? According to Dr. Betsey Stevenson, it will take a while for parents, especially moms, to return to the workforce due to the limited number of spots in the most sought-after daycare centers, the soaring child care costs, and widespread understaffing.
With child care costing twice as much as mortgages in some areas, according to the New York Times, the wait for some women and parents to rejoin the workforce might stretch for months, if they return at all. The pandemic in and of itself has placed immense strain on American caregivers and families. Most Americans have witnessed, in their own families, amongst their colleagues, and with their friends, the tremendous challenges that caregivers, teachers, and parents have faced. These challenges were only multiplied by the pandemic.
Daycare Centers Saw Dwindling Enrollment and Revenue
The states received $3.5 billion through the Child Care and Development Block Grant, thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law in early 2020. The funds were meant to boost childcare support and access, but it was too little to match the ever-burgeoning need for childcare services during the pandemic.
Of course, most parents had to pull their little ones from daycare for health and financial reasons. Although daycare employees and child caregivers were considered essential workers during the pandemic, they had no benefits. Daycare centers couldn’t fill their spots as enrollment and income dwindled, leading to more closures.
It’s a vicious cycle of plummeting enrollment, losing vital staff, and a dwindling income stream. Daycare centers needed dire financial help, but the Child Care and Development Block Grant wasn’t enough to cover everyone. Families continued to dis-enroll their children, and daycare facilities lost even more income.
Moreover, child care programs had to lay off some teachers and reduce center hours because of the reduction in income and enrollment. Daycare operators and owners also feared that unemployed staff members might seek other employment opportunities or sources of income and never return.
Long-Term Federal and State Investment Is Crucial for an Equitable and Robust Recovery of the Childcare Sector
Many families eligible for federal assistance were already out of the workforce and staying at home with their children. The federal relief made a huge difference in allowing some daycares to remain open for those essential workers who still needed childcare. However, this only provided a short-term relief and was not designed to offer any long-term solutions.
Many experts, including Dr. Austin, recommend a sustained federal investment to ensure a healthy and equitable recovery of the entire childcare sector. Reliable, long-term investments should help decouple what caregivers are paid and what parents can afford, ensuring that daycare centers and other childcare programs can retain staff, recruit more, and stay open.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put immense pressure on caregivers and families in the U.S. We’ve witnessed firsthand the complex challenges that teachers, parents, and other child caregivers have faced during this period. Daycare centers and the child care system paid the ultimate price.
About the Author
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.