One of the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic is also one of the industries on which others rest, often invisibly. Without child care, parents struggle to do their own jobs. And child care is in a major crisis. One in five child care jobs has disappeared since February.
Those losses are a jobs crisis for women, and women of color in particular: This is a workforce that’s 95% women, 20% Latina, and 19% Black. By contrast, the workforce as a whole is 47% women, 8% Latina, and 7% Black women. So when tens of thousands of child care workers lose their jobs, it’s hitting people who are already discriminated against and disadvantaged in the labor market.
Child care workers don’t have financial leeway to take a hit like this—the average full-time, year-round worker in the industry is paid just under $30,000, with Latina and Black women making even less. They’re also unlikely to have employer-sponsored health insurance or paid leave.
But it’s not just individual jobs at risk. This whole industry is at risk of collapsing, in desperate need of $9.6 billion per month in federal funding to survive the coronavirus crisis, according to the National Women’s Law Center’s Claire Ewing-Nelson. Without that assistance, child care centers won’t be able to handle the increased costs of cleaning and personal protective equipment at the same time as they have reduced enrollment to enable social distancing or because parents are afraid to send their kids to group settings. Already, many are at extreme risk of closing, or have already closed.
Child care center closures also threaten more than the large numbers of jobs in the industry itself, though, because of the importance of the service they provide in making it possible for parents to do their jobs. Many U.S. parents have learned over the past several months how difficult it is to work without child care, and expert warnings and anecdotal reports already show the danger to women’s careers as more children are home without outside care and the burden falls disproportionately on mothers.
In short, the potential collapse of the child care industry is a disaster for the hundreds of thousands of women—disproportionately Black and Latina and overwhelmingly low-paid—who are at risk of losing their jobs and for the families, mothers especially, who would lose the care they need to be able to do their jobs. This is another part of the U.S. system that was already broken, and the pandemic is shattering it.
About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.