When Gov. Greg Abbott recently paused the reopening of Texas to slow the spread of the coronavirus, he also enacted new emergency health and safety standards for child care operations.
That was a good move, but additional steps are needed if child care centers are going to be available when parents need to return to work.
This is no easy task. Many child care centers are barely holding on during the pandemic as parents stay home or worry about the risk of infection. Of course, the hard reality is that unless parents have more child care options that they can trust, many will not go back to work, and that will hurt the economy.
This issue is as important as reopening schools, but it hasn’t received adequate attention.
Child Care Relief, a coalition of business and early-childhood education groups, estimates that about half of child care facilities will not survive the pandemic, eliminating about 4.5 million child care slots nationally. The Center for American Progress estimates that in Texas 483,632 licensed child care slots, about 54%, are at risk of disappearing.
Nor does it help that about 45% of Texas families live in child care deserts with little or no access to quality child care, and not surprisingly these are in low-income neighborhoods.
Coronavirus has exposed the fragility of child care. Even before the pandemic, the absence of quality facilities kept many parents of young children, mostly women, out of the labor force. A White House report last year estimated that in 2016 about 3.8 million nondisabled, working-age parents with children under age 6 weren’t in the labor force, and another 6.6 million parents with children under age 13 were working part-time because they couldn’t increase their work hours without child care. By some estimates, child care issues collectively cost companies and workers about $57 billion each year.
Strategically, this should be the time for local, state, and federal governments as well as private industry to work toward making sure that the core of the child care infrastructure survives the pandemic. Some are calling for another round of financial aid from Congress to rescue struggling child care centers. Our view is that if regional chambers of commerce, employers and nonprofits aren’t working to ensure employees will have access to child care during and after the pandemic, they’ll be stalling the recovery from this recession. Our region already has a shortage of middle skills workers, and the lack of child care will only worsen a difficult situation.
The economic recovery from this pandemic depends in large measure on whether workers can return to work. If child care systems, which were already facing financial instability prior to COVID-19, don’t survive this crisis, the return to work will be greatly hindered.
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