We're not telling you anything you don't already know—and neither is the Washington Post—but without childcare, this economy is not coming all the way back. Given our perspective on women's economic self-sufficiency, the news gets even worse: "Economists are deeply worried the pandemic will set American women’s job prospects back for years."
This report from the American Progress Institute from just a year ago provides context about the impact of childcare on the labor force.
"There is a growing awareness of the links among access to child care, parental employment, and overall economic growth. Businesses rely on employees, and employees rely on child care. When problems with child care arise, parents must scramble to find alternative options—or miss work to care for their children. For millions of parents, that insecurity can mean working fewer hours, taking a pay cut, or leaving their jobs altogether. American businesses, meanwhile, lose an estimated $12.7 billion annually because of their employees’ child care challenges. Nationally, the cost of lost earnings, productivity, and revenue due to the child care crisis totals an estimated $57 billion each year."
Childcare was expensive and scarce long before the pandemic hit. And essential for women. Witness:
Policies aimed at alleviating the burden of paying for child care have been shown to promote mothers’ participation in the labor force. A growing body of research confirms that policies that help reduce the cost and increase the availability of early childhood education programs have positive effects on maternal labor force participation and work hours.
And yet, we don't implement or support policies directed at promoting women's--much less mothers'--participation in the labor force.
Right now, we're learning that the pandemic childcare burden is one-sided. The Washington Post reports, "The burden is falling heavily on women. Research shows that in 'child-care deserts' where there aren’t enough day-care spots for kids, there’s a 12 percentage point drop in mothers’ labor force participation. There is no detectable impact on fathers."
Nonetheless, the policy perspective still focuses on men.
“It’s amazing to me how many people are worried that Americans won’t go back to work because unemployment pays too darn much,” said Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan economics professor. “I’m way more worried about people not going back to work because they have no child care.”
Meanwhile, over in the land of tone-deaf policy decisions, this recent announcement from Florida State really shows us where things stand for parents.
“In March 2020, the University communicated a temporary exception to policy which allowed employees to care for children at home while on the Temporary Remote Work agreement. Effective, August 7, 2020, the University will return to normal policy and will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely.”
From concerns about "able-bodied workers" (a euphemism for "men") being "overpaid" by the additional $600 unemployment stipend to an assumption that somehow, people working from home, especially those with kids, are "looking out the window" and not being productive (we're looking at you Rep. Nicholas with this comment at the 1:40:00 mark in the most recent Joint Appropriations Committee hearing), we're making policy decisions that privilege an imaginary family and economic structure. Neither of which exist.
Meanwhile, new research from Caitlyn Collins and Leah Ruppaner tells us exactly what's happening during the pandemic. And it's exactly what the women you know have already told you.
"The gender gap in work hours has grown by 20 to 50%. These findings indicate yet another negative consequence of the COVID‐19 pandemic, highlighting the challenges it poses to women's work hours & employment."
The truth is, “The child-care industry supports all others. Without it, a lot of these other industries are not able to get back to where they need to be,” said Cheryl Oldham, vice president for education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Our nation's economy is not getting back on its feet until we recognize the world as it is. Women run the world. We may not be in charge in a lot of places, but we are the backbone of its running.
But the enacted policies don't support us, they subjugate us. It is long past time for us to change the policies so that we can live into the true potential that we collectively hold.