Did Covid Break Child Care or Was It Already Broken? A Brief Explainer - Early Learning Nation

Did Covid Break Child Care or Was It Already Broken? A Brief Explainer

Support for this project was provided by Better Life Lab at New America

DID COVID BREAK CHILD CARE OR WAS IT ALREADY BROKEN? A BRIEF EXPLAINER Text by Rebecca Gale/ Illustration by Dianne Kirsch

BEFORE THE PANDEMIC, U.S. CHILD CARE WAS ALREADY CONSIDERED BROKEN. The U.S. spent less on child care than any other developed country. Demand for infant care - the costliest care with the lowest teacher ratios - remained high, and spots were in short supply. THEN CAME COVID A drawing of a stack of coins shows that the US spends $500/year vs $14,000/year in other countries (the average country’s investment in kids under 5) Also, an overwhelmed child care worker.

…AND WORKPLACES, SCHOOL AND CHILD CARES CLOSED THEIR DOORS. The lockdown phase of COVID-19 pandemic shifted child care burdens back home. BUT NOT FOR EVERYONE A drawing of 2 stressed parents – mother at a computer and father holding a baby while two other young kids play.

NOT EVERYONE COULD WORK REMOTELY. Many had no workable child care arrangement. Others relied on having older children watch younger children, or placed in front of a screen for hours. MANY WORKERS, ESPECIALLY WOMEN, HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO LEAVE THEIR JOBS. A drawing of the many types of essential workers.

WOMEN BORE THE BRUNT OF UNEMPLOYMENT. The Losses for women without college degrees was especially staggering. Women of color fared even worse, exacerbating wage and gender inequalities. Two years after the pandemic, almost 2 million had left their jobs. CHILD CARE, IT TURNS OUT, IS AN ECONOMIC ISSUE. A drawing of a woman carrying a box of belongings as she leaves her workplace.

EMPLOYERS SCRAMBLED TO FILL WORKERS’ SPOTS. Child care became a front and center issue. Some newsrooms were covering this issue in-depth for the first time. BUT CHILD CARE, TOO, FACED A WORKER SHORTAGE. A drawing of a man reading newspaper.

WITHOUT PUBLIC INVESTMENT IN CHILD CARE, JOB QUALITY IS POOR. CHILD CARE LOST ABOUT 100K WORKERS AND IS STILL RECOVERING. A drawing of a building with a NOW HIRING banner, a day care with a closed sign, and a woman in apron.

THERE WAS A MOMENT WHEN IT SEEMED CONGRESS WOULD FIX OUR BROKEN CHILD CARE SYSTEM. Such attention helped catapult child care funding in President Biden’s Build Back Better package – which includes $400 billion to support child care and early education: raising wages of child care workers, increasing subsidies for families, shoring up struggling day care centers and expanding eligibility. BUT IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. A drawing of a toddler playing with building blocks, then a drawing of a “partisan gridlock” bulldozer smashing all the blocks to the ground.

PARENTS CONTINUE TO ASK FOR HELP THE U.S. CHILD CARE SYSTEM ISN’T WORKING FOR ANYONE. WITHOUT SUSTAINED FEDERAL INVESTMENT, IT WILL REMAIN BROKEN. A drawing of parents screaming at a meeting in a park.

SO HOW CAN WE FIX IT? WE NEED TO INVEST PUBLIC DOLLARS INTO CREATING A UNIVERSAL CHILD CARE SYSTEM. A drawing of a child care building and worker with a child, along with a circular graphic that reads "Parents Can Afford It - Teachers Make a Living Wage - Kids Have More Options"

Rebecca Gale is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. and a reporting fellow for Better Life Lab at New America.

Dianne Kirsch is graphic designer, specializing in brand identity, art direction, print collateral, books, annual reports and website design.

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