‘I have no choice’: Child care fees prevent American women from returning to work | US News

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High costs and lack of access to child care are preventing thousands of women from returning to the workforce in the United States despite a widespread labor shortage.

Child care systems in America were already facing significant problems in terms of expenses, low wages for workers and lack of accessibility for families before the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has compounded these problems as daycares have been forced to close, and many have closed permanently, have yet to reopen, or reduced enrollments.

Jessica Rapp from Westminster, Colorado, gave birth to her first child in August 2020. Her work as a pediatric occupational therapist did not include any paid maternity leave. She took 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The financial difficulties began after she received high medical bills for childbirth, even though she had health insurance. Rapp and her husband are still paying off the medical debt, although she was only able to return to work part-time due to the high costs of childcare. The couple pay about $ 1,200 per month for two days of child care per week.

“Now my son is 14 months old and I would say the last year has been the most financially stressed we’ve ever been,” Rapp said. “The cost of full-time child care would have been much more than our mortgage, more than my salary could have taken. “

Even with the family’s financial support and childcare assistance, Rapp was unable to return to full-time work.

“I have no choice at the moment. I want to work. It should be a good thing, but it just isn’t possible now.

In September 2021, more than 300,000 women in the United States left the workforce. More than 26,000 jobs were lost in September 2021 for women, while men gained 220,000 jobs. The participation rate in the United States is still 1.7% lower than before the pandemic of February 2020, including nearly 1.6 million mothers with children under 17 who have abandoned the market from work and did not come back.

“The healthcare infrastructure was hanging by a thread before the pandemic,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director and CEO of MomsRising. “Then it completely collapsed and it became clear that we absolutely have to invest in child care so that parents can go to work, children can thrive and educators can earn a living wage. Investing in child care is job-friendly and job-creating, allowing parents to take their much-needed jobs, and investing in careers and better wages for social workers.

President Biden’s Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill includes $ 400 billion in funding to develop a free universal preschool for children aged three and four, and to cut child care costs to 7% income for families earning up to 250% of their state’s median income, which is expected to expand access to 20 million children in the United States.

Right now, the United States government spends just $ 500 per year per child on early childhood care, which is significantly lower than the rich country average, at $ 14,436 in annual government spending.

Child care costs for parents have increased dramatically over the past few decades and vary widely across the United States, from around $ 5,000 a year in Mississippi to around $ 24,000 a year in Washington DC. Even before Covid-19, a majority of Americans lived in child care deserts.

Reshonna Booker of Seattle, Washington, gave birth to her first child in June 2020, while studying to be a teacher. After her few weeks of paid leave during the pandemic expired, Booker had to leave the workforce to care for her son, as child care was not only too expensive, but every facility she and her husband could find had waiting lists of at least two years.

“90% of the kids that come in are middle class white families, and so all of these places are full, and where does that leave all the other people of color to get a quality education?” Said Booker. “I think it should be a priority, to change the education gap, to have places reserved for children of color in better quality schools, especially for young black children, because we can never get in and they are too expensive. “

In the United States, caregivers typically earn around $ 12 an hour.

Low pay is a contributing factor to the staff shortages that the majority of child care centers in the United States still experience after the pandemic. More than 100,000 jobs in the child care sector have been lost since the start of the pandemic.

In the United States, more than one in three child care providers indicated in a recent survey that they are considering leaving or closing their child care program.

Lacey Clark began working at Wild Lilac Child Development Community in Portland, Oregon, after the facility reopened after a brief closure due to Covid in the spring of 2020. She had been laid off from a job with another service provider. guard due to the pandemic.

“It looked like the Dark Ages,” Clark said. “The political landscape was changing, it was like every week, both our school creating its own policies, government policies, then early childhood policies. I felt like we were really out of control and getting a lot of criticism for the policies being developed around us. “

Clark and his colleagues recently voted overwhelmingly to unionize after organizing with colleagues via the internet over Covid security protocols.

“We need to have more staff and be better paid,” Clark added. “There is such a high turnover. The arrival of new people with no minimum wage training and higher expectations for them for high quality childcare services has caused massive burnout.


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