The childcare industry continues to recover from getting walloped during the pandemic. Direct hits saw capacity limits and closures. Indirect impacts came from parents losing jobs or working fewer hours weekly and opting to remove their children from care facilities. In many cases, this was because of costs and working parents not earning as much due to changes in their job situations, deciding it was better to tackle child care themselves at home.
The Childcare Workforce Remains Weak
Researchers from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment have conducted surveys, and their data pointed to a bleak picture. In March 2022, two years into the pandemic, statistics revealed that in the US alone, there are 117,000 fewer childcare jobs compared to what was available in February 2020. The situation is even worse than that. A survey conducted in March 2022 by Stanford University found that out of close to 800 childcare providers, more than 33 percent struggle to meet basic household expenses such as food, housing, and utilities.
What They Had To Say
Rochelle Wilcox says, “We are having humongous struggles with hiring teachers. I still have a classroom I cannot open because we are not able to hire teachers.” Wilcox is the CEO of the Wilcox Academy of Early Learning, a childcare center based in New Orleans. “We are hand in hand with the economy, and we are not just respected as such…doctors, lawyers, nurses, sanitation workers – none of those people can go to work if they don’t have anywhere to put their children,” Wilcox adds.
In the words of one anonymous childcare provider in Wisconsin, “I’m 52 and have NO savings and no retirement because of my choice to continue to care for children.” She went on to say that she cared for children “without pay” during the pandemic or took reduced pay, gave up her vacation time, or other perks to ensure that children in her facility received care. “I’m emotionally and physically drained,” she adds. “Something needs to change.” Without a significant cash injection into the industry, it will inch closer to collapsing.
Research Shows Low Capacity Figures
Columbia University gathered cell phone data by tracking how many in-person visits occurred across over 80,000 childcare centers. By February 2022, roughly 25 percent of the childcare centers – or one in 4 – saw at least 50 percent fewer visits than in 2021. But, of course, not all of this can be blamed on the pandemic, either. The childcare industry has been on life support for much longer than the coronavirus has been in the news.
For example, there was a 21 percent decrease in family childcare homes in North Carolina from 2016 to 2018. That figure improved to 9 percent between 2019 and 2021 but still needs to be higher to meet the demand. In addition, close to 9,000 childcare centers in 37 states and 7,000 licensed home-based centers located in 36 states have closed, according to a report published by Child Care Aware of America. The report says these closures took place between December 2019 and March 2021.
There Have Been Two Possible Reasons For The Closures
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, over 80 percent of respondents to a survey showed two primary reasons why childcare centers have suffered so long. First, the data points to staffing shortages and low wages. Child Care Aware verifies this, stating that in May 2020, the average US wage for a childcare worker was $12.24 per hour.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services chief deputy secretary for opportunity and well-being, Susan Gale Perry, agrees. “Parents are paying what is a really high cost – more than many college tuitions – for child care, yet the wages of the child care workforce still remain only at about $12 an hour.”
Although There Has Been Funding, It’s Not Enough
Perry points out that there has been federal funding that helped keep childcare programs in place and prevented further closures, but staffing rates must increase to attract and retain quality childcare workers. She says the math needs to meet the needs adequately. “And that is because it is really not a market system that works without some sort of intervention in paying for what the actual cost is to operate the system.”
Why Child Care Workers Tend To Leave The Industry
Wilcox says early childhood teachers leave the industry primarily because they feel undervalued. She explains that the work is hard and the pay is low. Plus, the dismissal of the profession of teaching young children is nothing more than babysitting. Wilcox says that when she opened her child care center, her mother asked, “Why are you wasting time cleaning butts and wiping noses?” In addition, she finds it disrespectful that many still consider child care “women’s work.”
There Is Still Room For Optimism
The City of New Orleans took a proactive approach to save childcare services for their working parents. They agreed to a property tax increase to generate over $20 million annually for early childhood education funding. This program will provide teachers with pay bonuses and open over 1,000 more childcare spots for low-income families. As great as that is for the city, Wilcox continues to be concerned for the rest of the country. She feels that if more teachers are not attracted to the childcare industry to fill the workforce or show value in their career choice, “then we will be sitting with empty classrooms.”
It comes down to deciding whether or not the economy can survive without childcare services. For some workers, it won’t be an issue. However, for working families with both parents away at jobs, childcare services allow them to follow their chosen careers without concern about leaving their children at home with family or friends. In addition, childcare educates young children preparing them for entry into formal schooling. Without it, children have a disadvantage when they enter the education system.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.