Aug 18, 2020

Recovery? Not without child care

As Vermont’s students prepare to go back to school a limited number of days each week, the question looms; how do parents balance the need to return to work with the need to keep track of their children and their school work? How do parents make it work when child care options don’t exist, or are prohibitively expensive?

It’s an issue with more questions than answers, but what we do know is that an economic recovery is not possible without adequately addressing our child care issues. At an abstract level, we’ve known there was an issue for a long time. What the pandemic has done is to expose the issue for what it is; central to our economic success. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. If parents can’t find a suitable place to take care of their children while at work, then parents drop out of the workforce, participate part-time, or try to manage their work from home, while tending their children.

Without assistance — from the state or federal government — the fear is that we could find ourselves with many fewer day care options. For obvious reasons. Most day care centers are serving fewer children [67 percent fewer according to a national survey], and those who are in business have seen their costs increase with the requirement that they provide personal protective equipment to their staff.

That’s not sustainable. The can’t continue to operate with fewer children [less income] and higher expenses.

On top of that, two out of every three children in child care settings have all available parents in the workforce.

The math is easy to figure. Fewer daycares add up to fewer parents who are able to go to work and more businesses without the necessary help.

What’s astounding is that we did not blink an eye when it came to supporting federal help for the airline industry, or hotels, or businesses in general, help that ran into the trillions of dollars, yet we continue to ignore the day care industry that all others depend on to open their doors each day.

It’s an issue nationwide, and particularly so in Vermont. Franklin County, for example, carries the distinction of being a “child care desert.” There are far more children in need of day care than there are providers and if Vermont follows the national trend, there will be even fewer child care centers going forward. They are exhausting what meager resources they have.

Quality child care was an issue before the pandemic; we limped through by pushing it off as something that was beyond our means to resolve. But now, the question is: Unaffordable compared to what? If parents can’t go to work because they have no affordable place to send their children, then how do businesses cope? How does the economy recover?

It’s also an issue that affects women more than men, and particularly those on the low end of the income scale. How, for example, does the retail world work if their employees have no place to take care of their children while at work? How does this affect women in the workforce and the decades of progress they’ve made?

The child care issue is being described as the anchor around the ankle of economy recovery. It’s about time. We’ve been ignoring it long enough. It will cost money. A lot. But it’s a pittance compared to the alternative.

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

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