Updated July 7 at 8:30 a.m. PT.
The financial recession brought on by COVID-19 has undoubtedly been a ‘she-cession.’ The industries hit hardest by the pandemic—leisure, hospitality, education and health care—employ disproportionate numbers of women and people of color, causing women (especially women of color) to bear a greater economic brunt than their male counterparts.
Child care centers are among the women-dominated industries struggling to remain in business in the midst of coronavirus.
At the same time, as economies start to come back online, help is desperately needed to support the 21.5 million workers with a child under the age of six.
In an effort to save both the child care sector and parents, Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), have introduced much-needed legislation—namely, the Child Care is Essential Act—to the U.S. Senate.
“Our economy simply cannot recover if parents cannot go back to work because they do not have access to safe, reliable child care. Our bill makes significant investments in child care centers that have not only been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, but now also face added challenges in instituting new health and safety policies to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.”
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Ct.) has introduced similar legislation.
“What is the plan for getting people back to work? Part of that plan has to do with how you deal with how they take care of their children,” DeLauro said. Child care is not a “women’s issue. … [It’s a] family [issue] and, above all, [it’s an] economic survival [issue]—not just for families but for our economy going forward.”
The Child Care is Essential Act
The Child Care is Essential Act would create a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund to help centers remain open and operational throughout the pandemic.
The fund would provide grants to offset the cost of additional health policies in child care centers—such as sanitation, personal protective equipment and training—and would ensure the pay of child care workers reflects the additional cost of providing care amidst the pandemic.
The child care sector is in desperate need of funding—as Congress initially allocated only $3.5 billion to child care providers. Even the additional $7 billion provided by the HEROES Act (not yet introduced due to Republican stalling in the Senate) barely scratches the surface of what child care providers actually need.
The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) estimates it would take at least $9.6 billion per month to keep current child care providers in business through the pandemic. The Child Care is Essential Act would provide these funds.
The low budget allocated in the CARES Act illuminates a lack of recognition and appreciation of child care workers—many of whom are women of color. Even before the pandemic, child care workers were often underpaid; that problem has only increased over the past months.
Shana Bartley, director of community partnerships, income security, and child care and early learning at NWLC, explained how the disregard for the child care sector is rooted in systemic racism:
“The workers providing this care, typically women, are underpaid and undervalued precisely because they are the ones doing this work. Black women in particular have cared for America’s children for centuries—first as enslaved people and then employed as low-paid workers. It’s not by accident that child care funding has been consistently overlooked, even before the COVID-19 crisis.”
Economic Recovery Must Include Women
Although the U.S. saw slight decreases in unemployment last month, the unemployment rate still remains astronomical—a disappointing step backwards from December, when women held more payroll jobs than men: the first time in almost a decade.
And there are noticeable differences in the unemployment rates of women—particularly women of color. In its most recent report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the unemployment rate for adult men was 11.6 percent—more than 2 percent below that of adult women, 13.9 percent. Even more notable, the unemployment rate for Black women is 16.5 percent, and for Hispanic women, 19 percent.
As the demographics with the highest unemployment rates are reflect those largely represented in the child care sector, providing funding for child care would help to alleviate unemployment inequalities that disproportionately affect women of color.
Failure to enact this legislation could also have dire consequences on the U.S. economy: Without the support of government grants, as many as 4.5 million child care slots could disappear—leaving working parents without child care options. All this while businesses and jobs reopen, and working parents grow even more reliant on child care to be able to go to work.
According to analysis by the Center for American Progress, lack of child care negatively affected communities of color prior to the pandemic—since Black and Brown parents were more likely than their white counterparts to experience child care-related job disruptions that could affect their families’ financial security. Without solution-oriented policy, the crisis for families of color will only intensify.
Moreover, the recovery of the U.S. economy as a whole depends on parents returning to work.
“Our economy simply cannot recover if parents cannot go back to work because they do not have access to safe, reliable child care,” said Hassan.
Working Mothers Disproportionately Affected
The lack of access to child care providers disproportionately impacts working mothers, who often bear the brunt of child care responsibility. Although 70 perent of women with children are in the labor force, coronavirus has exacerbated gender norms and structural sexism—as women become even more likely to take over domestic tasks in a work-from-home environment.
A recent study found in heterosexual couples, 66 percent of women reported that they were primarily responsible for child care during the pandemic, and half of couples said education was the sole responsibility of the mother. This uneven distribution gravely impacts the well-being of working moms.
The gender pay gap further exacerbates the expectation that women should be responsible for taking time off work to care for their children. Because women are statistically paid less than men, many heterosexual couples find that it is more financially reasonable for women to take time off to care for their children.
Without adequate access to child care providers, working moms will remain disproportionately responsible for child care, making it increasingly difficult to return to work. To enable moms return to the workforce, child care centers must be given the necessary funding to remain afloat.
As the child care sector struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, Congress has a responsibility to provide financial support to the industry—as it has done in the past: The U.S. government heavily subsidized child care programs during WWII in order to support women in the workforce and stabilize the economy.
Once again, the country is in need of economic stability—and funding the child care sector can help achieve it.
Although the Child Care is Essential Act has not made substantial progress in Congress, drawing greater attention to the bill will help it to succeed.
With the help of the NWLC, we encourage Ms. readers to take action by voicing support for the bill to your Senators and Representatives.
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