Nearly three years after the pandemic began, parents are still feeling a financial squeeze because of child care.
In December, 51,000 parents had to miss work because of child-care problems. That's an improvement over October's record high when 104,000 parents missed work, but it's still greater than pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Total employment for women with children under age 18 was at 24.7 million in November, an increase of about 199,000 compared with November 2019. But the unemployment rate for women with children under age 6 was 3.8% in November, slightly higher than the 3.6% recorded in November 2019.
Missed work — and even more serious ramifications, such as parents dropping out of the workforce or reducing their hours — has severe financial consequences for families.
Nationwide, parents lost a total of $8.3 billion in wages due to inadequate child care, according to a 2016 study. For businesses, that means lost productivity and absenteeism cost them $1,150 per working parent each year — and those figures were calculated before the pandemic, said Anna Powell, senior research and policy associate at the UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.
COVID-19 then exacerbated the child-care industry's problems. Caring for young children is expensive and labor costs make up a large portion of providers' budgets. Many parents can't afford the true cost. Providers then can't raise rates much higher than minimum wage without a stable and external source of funding, meaning child-care workers' wages are low. That leads to high turnover and a shortage of workers. The pandemic accelerated the exodus of child-care workers from the industry, a steady drip, drip, drip that has not yet fully recovered.
Child-care employment is still down almost 10% relative to its pre-COVID-19 levels, said Jessica Brown, an assistant professor of economics at the University of South Carolina who focuses on the economics of the child-care market.
"We see that employment overall in other industries has, on average, fully recovered, but in the child-care industry, we're still down," she said.
The lack of availability and affordability has forced many parents, especially mothers, to put their own careers on hold or reduce their hours. But how can you balance that with household expenses?
The Times interviewed parents about how child-care issues have affected their work and what they've had to do to adjust. Here are three personal stories.