Aug 27, 2020

Campbell & Lane: COVID-19, women, child care and education

by Kellie Campbell, Chair of the Vermont Commission on Women’s Education & Human Development Committee and Hannah Lane, Policy Analyst and Business Manager for the Vermont Commission on Women

Policy decisions regarding education and child care are gendered. That is a fact that must not be ignored. As public schools in Vermont reopen using a variety of learning models, data signals working women stand to bear the brunt of the impacts. Women experience this from multiple sides: they continue to be primarily responsible for the majority of child-rearing and caregiving, and they make up the vast majority of Vermont’s teachers[i] and child care providers[ii]. Many educators will feel this burden doubly, balancing their careers and the needs of their students with the needs of their own children.

Most of Vermont’s students will learn virtually at least some, if not most, of the time this fall. Many parents must navigate that change while balancing employment, increased family responsibilities, and supporting children’s virtual learning. Women will overwhelmingly be the ones who are forced to pull back from their careers to meet this challenge.

Data from the Census Household Pulse survey, conducted in late April and early May, found that over 80% of U.S. adults who weren’t working because they had to care for their children who were not in school or daycare were women.[iii] Even before the pandemic, mothers were 40% more likely than fathers to report that they had personally felt the negative impact of child care issues on their careers;[iv] 3 times as likely as men to report that at some point they quit a job so that they could care for family;[v] 7 times more likely to cite childcare problems as a reason for working part-time;[vi] and 4 times more likely than men to take time off work when children are sick.[vii] Moreover, women are significantly more likely to be navigating this crisis as single parents; 21% of all children in the United States live only with their mother, compared to 4% living with their father only.[viii]

As policymakers and communities consider how to provide children with care and education during this pandemic, and how to support Vermonters in getting back to work, the need for a strong early childhood care and education infrastructure has become increasingly visible. While Vermont’s child care providers are paid as much as $20,000 less per year than similarly-qualified and deserving individuals teaching in the K-12 system,[ix] they have not been the beneficiaries of the well-deserved and fierce advocacy we’ve seen for public school teachers. Child care providers have been caring for essential workers’ children throughout the pandemic, and most reopened to all children over the summer. Vermont has made additional investments including offering grants to child care businesses, but along with those investments, child care workers are now being asked to carry an even heavier burden by providing care and support to our K-12 students on days they aren’t at school.

A successful plan for the reopening of schools will be one that provides for safe and adequate care and education of Vermont’s children and takes into consideration the needs of educators and working parents. Economic support for families with lost earning potential due to COVID’s impacts must be built in to ensure success. Vermont parents need adequate unemployment benefits, paid family and medical leave, and the ability to take care of their families without losing their income. They need universal health insurance, so when crisis strikes, families and kids don’t lose their health care. They need public benefits like Reach Up, 3SquaresVT, and the Child Care Financial Assistance Program that keep up with inflation and deliver enough aid to meet their families' needs. And they need significant investments in Vermont’s child care system, and in our early childhood educators, to ensure high-quality, affordable early care and learning and after-school opportunities exist so working parents can get back to, and remain, in the workforce.

Women in Vermont need our state to develop and implement a holistic, thoughtful plan designed with pre-existing inequities in mind. It must be designed to work for all of us and ensure that the burden of this pandemic does not continue to rest disproportionately on women. Without this plan, the risk of downward economic spiral not only harms families, but communities and the state’s overall economic recovery and future. Our strong state is resilient, and Vermont will recover from COVID-19, but that only happens successfully if we are looking out for one another. Together, and with fair and equitable policy solutions, we can all recover.

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