Economic Recovery Depends on Child Care

Black and Latina entrepreneurs critical for a post-pandemic workforce

The Great Recession has some people asking, “Where are the workers?” and others to quip, “No one wants to work anymore.” While the economy continues to pick up pace in a not-quite-post-pandemic world, employers have been unable to keep up with hiring. The labor market continues to be tight, with over 11 million job openings in February and 4.4 million quitting their jobs that same month.

The pandemic has especially impacted women, who have been saddled with additional caretaking duties while trying to keep jobs and maintain careers. This is not a new dynamic, but the pandemic made an already precarious child care situation even more volatile in the United States.

Quality, affordable child care was hard to come by before the pandemic. In fact, in 28 states, child care costs more than college tuition. Post-pandemic, parents are fighting an uphill battle to return to or remain in the workforce.

Where are the Workers?

The Cleveland-based Fund For our Economic Future conducted a regional labor survey and analysis, “Where are the Workers?”, which found that caring for children or other family members was among the top five reasons for resigning jobs since the pandemic began.

In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 129 child care centers closed between May 2020 and May 2021. The impact of child care closures has not been felt equally. According to the analysis, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the employment status of people of color the most, which mirrors what has happened across the country.

“There’s a disproportionate share of Black and Latinx women working in sectors that did not shut down during the pandemic, like healthcare and hospitality, yet the capacity to serve their children was significantly decreased,” said Bishara Addison, who is job preparation director at the Fund For our Economic Future and leads the National Fund’s workforce collaborative in the region.

A Double Whammy for Black and Latina Women

Black and Latina women experience the challenges of child care on two levels, both as working parents who need affordable child care and as child care workers themselves. In Cleveland, 96% of home-based child care owners are Black and Latina women.

“In order to increase capacity and return to work, we have to think about child care owners as not just early learning educators but also as entrepreneurs and community developers,” said Addison.

The Invisible Issue

Surveys, like the one in Cuyahoga County, are critically important for exposing the gaps in perception between employers and the labor force and uncover hidden factors contributing to worker shortages, especially those that disproportionately affect Black and brown women. “Child care access is often an invisible issue to employers. People who can’t get day care to go to a job interview never even show up on employers’ radars,” Addison said.

In Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission is addressing this at the systemic level by funding up to one year of free child care to service industry workers that meet income and working hour requirements. Parents receive a subsidy to offset the cost of child care at the provider of their choice.

“Access to reliable child care equals employees who are reliable at their jobs,” said Shari Anderson, vice president of the Texas-based ChildCareGroup.

Instead of asking where are the workers, let’s start addressing the issues that prevent too many workers from applying, doing, and keeping a job.