Today is sure to be a Mother’s Day like no other. Drive-by brunches or quarantine family dinners will be on the menu for many. The coronavirus stay-at-home orders have meant more togetherness than most families ever signed up for.
When schools and many day care centers shut down, child care shifted largely into people’s homes. It is a form of unpaid labor whose burdens fall disproportionately on women. For all the changes in gender roles and expectations in the past 50 years, statistics show that men tend to earn more than women in the workplace, and a larger share of parental duties falls to women in a typical household.
American society no longer relies on a traditional model of men earning a living while women stay home to raise the kids. A single paycheck doesn’t go as far as it did in the 1950s, and many children live in households with a single parent. In order to restart our economy after Covid-19 infections are better controlled, it will be crucial for parents to have child care solutions. Child care centers – which were allowed to stay open this spring as “essential,” but lost most of their business as parents stayed home – will need to be available and they’ll need to be safe.
A Buffalo News story on Thursday pointed out that working class families will have a tougher time lining up child care in order to return to work. The concept of working at home doesn’t fit many blue-collar occupations, and lower-wage workers who can’t afford day care will be put in a tough spot, forced to choose between working and overseeing their children. And a shortage of available workers in some sectors will make businesses less able to get up and running when they get the green light.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has pointed out the fact that businesses can’t just throw open their doors without regard to whether children have school to attend. Federal lawmakers, when they craft future emergency assistance bills for those affected by coronavirus, will need to figure out how to support working parents.
A coalition of child care, child advocacy and business organizations is campaigning for Congress to create a child care stabilization fund, to give grants that will allow child care providers to prepare to reopen, bring back staff and meet necessary hygiene and safety standards magnified by Covid-19. Members of the coalition, called Child Care Relief, include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, underscoring the link between child care and the ability of business to function.
Child care centers run on thin profit margins in normal times. Like other businesses that have taken huge financial hits the past few months, the centers will need federal support to get back on their feet. Congress needs to provide it.
Of course, anywhere children venture outside their homes will need to provide a safe and sanitary setting. Schools and day care centers in other parts of the world have been reopening, using various mitigation measures. Those include spacing desks farther apart, enforcing social distancing in hallways, having students eat lunch at their desks to avoid large gatherings, and going to school on staggered days or at staggered times.
Children seem to be minimally affected by Covid-19, but having them exposed to the contagion is not without risk. Asymptomatic young people can transmit the disease to older and more vulnerable family members. Also, the New York Times reported last week on a mysterious illness that causes severe inflammation among some children who have tested positive for Covid-19.
Lawmakers at all levels will need to keep child care in mind when they speak about reopening the economy.
The Child Care Relief coalition summed up the stakes in a letter to congressional leaders. “In order to help American families, stimulate future consumer spending, support small businesses, sustain industries, and buttress the herculean efforts of medical professionals,” the coalition wrote, “lawmakers must recognize the through line in all of this is child care.”
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