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Child-care woes fueled by pandemic could yield long-term solutions

  • 1 min to read

Reliable and affordable child care is essential to the U.S. and state economies.

Yet, it’s long been struggle for parents to find child care that meets their needs.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has made the task of finding child care seemingly impossible.

And, ironically, the pandemic has made the need for child care greater than ever.

As Congress and state legislatures continue working (albeit very slowly) to approve financial relief packages for those hit hardest by the pandemic, child care is an area that must be addressed with far more vigor. The current focus falls far short.

The Washington state Department of Commerce recently released a task-force study that shows just how dire the situation is in this state.

The Washington State Wire reports the study found that over half a million children in Washington did not have access to licensed child care before the pandemic. That number has grown.

The report said that although 61% of young children live in households where all parents work, the state has sufficient licensed child care capacity for only 41% of young children and 5% of school-age children.

Beyond that, the report said, 18.3% parents surveyed turned down a job or promotion due to issues surrounding child care. Overall, according the Washington Wire, 47% of unemployed parents found child care to be a barrier to their employment search.

This should not be a surprise.

In the midst of the pandemic, a great many people must now work from home — some with small children at their side.

Others have been laid off from their jobs because of the pandemic, but have been unable to even look for new jobs because they don’t have child care.

Or some have had to quit their jobs because they can’t find — or afford — child care.

“Child care is unaffordable for most middle and lower-income working families,” said Ross Hunter, chief of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families. “Benefit ‘cliffs’ make it so that getting a small raise often results in astronomical, and unaffordable, increases in child care costs for a family. Not only does this often leave kids in unstable arrangements, it locks their parents into low-wage, unstable jobs. Fixing this will be expensive, but not re-opening the economy would be even more so.”

Hunter poured out a mouthful of problems in that quote. None of them easily solved.

However, the pandemic is an opportunity to find some long-term solutions while discussing short-term fixes for those who have been financially turned inside out by the downturn in the economy.

The task force that did the child care study is now working to develop a child care cost estimation model, along with workforce compensation and subsidy policy recommendations. That’s a necessary step to cope with the growing problem.