Oct 20, 2020

Editorial: Child-care - Can't ignore it

 When we talk about a return to normal, it’s more than not having to wear masks, and washing our hands, it’s a general reference to the economy and how each of us can return to our old jobs, how we put back into place all the pieces of our lives the pandemic disrupted. That move to normalcy makes a lot of assumptions that are being challenged.

At the top of that list is the impact Covid-19 is having on women in the workplace and the financial crisis being faced by the day care industry.

About 20 percent of all working mothers indicate they are considering dropping out of the workforce and an additional 15 percent of mothers say they are considering dialing back their careers. The survey, conducted by McKinsey and LeanIn.org., shows that women, particularly those with young children, are stressed over child care issues and the double-duty issues of twinning work with home schooling their children and maintaining the household.

It’s a potential crisis on two fronts: first, businesses, and, by extension, the economy is at risk if the productivity/participation of women is lost; second, the gains in the workplace that women have achieved over the decades is also in jeopardy.

When faced with this reality, the first step has to be foundational, to ask ourselves what can be built that the economy needs if it is to reestablish itself and to grow.

There are several, but none any more important than coming to terms with our child care needs, which means looking at child care differently, primarily as an investment, not an expense. It has to be considered as a primary support service, an industry, in and of itself, that keeps the doors of all other industries open. For too long we’ve assumed parents would simply figure things out, that children would bounce back, regardless of circumstance, and that the expense of child care and its availability was someone else’s concern.

That’s no longer the case and child care centers are closing their doors, unable to handle the pandemic’s increased costs and reduced attendance. According to the Bipartisan Police Center/Morning Consult poll, almost 60 percent of the parents polls said they don’t plan to send their children back to their old child-care programs. Nationally, some 40 percent of U.S. day cares are presently closed; 10 percent have already gone out of business. The survey shows that 80 percent of our child care centers will close permanently if they lose 20 percent or more of their enrollment.

That’s a critical issue for a state like Vermont. We already have a child care crisis. Counties like our own — Franklin County — have been described as child care “deserts.” What happens if we lose even a fraction of what we have? What happens if we see here the decline that is predicted nationally in terms of women dropping out of the workforce?

It’s not something we can afford, and it’s something we should address as a state before it becomes our reality. As with similar challenges, we have allowed ourselves to be victims of our own inertia. We haven’t been as aggressive as we needed to be because we were always able to limp by; it was easier to pretend the problem didn’t exist.

The pandemic has blown the cover off that approach. What we’re staring at is a threat to our economy and to the well being of the family unit, writ large.

There are a number of ways we could respond, and almost all of them would result in a stronger and more equitable economy. But the first step is actually admitting we have a problem, and acknowledging that to do nothing is unacceptable and self-defeating.

Click here to read this editorial on the St. Albans Messenger website. 

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