by Clarissa Doutherd
Many of us overlook the relationship between childcare and the economy. Childcare is a critical piece of community infrastructure, interrelated with workforce, housing and health. Without solid, supported childcare systems in place, our economy cannot properly function. As we aim to reopen communities, childcare programs are still on the brink of collapse.
These programs, which were already operating on razor-thin margins, now face dire financial and safety challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a society, we have historically expected caregivers – who primarily have been Black and Latinx women – to care for children without consideration of their need to care for themselves or their families. It’s a system which doesn’t value their essential work, ultimately exploits them and hinders children’s development.
We cannot afford to lose any more childcare providers who deeply love their profession and deserve to have their significant labor valued. Without adequate funding, our childcare programs will indeed collapse and the economic consequences will take decades to remedy.
A recent survey of 559 licensed child care programs in the Bay Area found only 41 percent are currently open. Fifty-eight percent reported families being unable to pay for their childcare needs and 59 percent indicated needing financial resources to cover operating and staff costs. Of those open, more than 60 percent have lost staff. This is in addition to those who remain closed or have permanently shut down.
These dire circumstances impact both the providers who care for our children and families who desperately need childcare to return to the workplace.
Advocating for childcare without social justice, without challenging racism, sexism, xenophobia and all forms of injustice and oppression, leaves us empty services and programs that do little to transform and uplift families’ lives.
Past economic and health crises have proven the hardest hit are low-income communities of color, particularly Black and Latinx populations. We are currently in a moment in which these issues are surfacing, and the pandemic further amplifies them. Our own community has already been severely impacted by COVID-19, with leading concerns among local families focusing on childcare and school closures, paying for housing, job loss and access to healthy, affordable food.
If more providers close their doors, millions of children will be at risk. How will parents go back to work? Who will watch our children? Many already find themselves in this impossible situation. From grocery store clerks to janitorial staff, countless essential workers have been left without access to childcare, while many have no choice but to go to work. Still, large numbers of us are trying to balance work at home while also being the full-time caregiver and now part-time tutor with the start of the school year.
Advocating for childcare without social justice, without challenging racism, sexism, xenophobia and all forms of injustice and oppression, leaves us empty services and programs that do little to transform and uplift families’ lives. Simply increasing funding does not mean childcare workers and families experiencing deep poverty will get help. It is through amplifying the lived experiences of those most impacted by childcare inaccessibility, through addressing racial and gender injustice in services, that we will see the transformation in early education which is long overdue. We must do better for our future generation.
As the long road to our economy’s recovery continues, families and childcare programs need additional support. Alameda County’s Measure C, which passed earlier this year and was led by women of color to provide funding for childcare programs, is a major step toward vulnerable communities receiving such support. On the federal level, the Child Care is Essential Act is currently in Congress, potentially endowing $50 billion in much needed assistance to get families back to work.
We must hold decision makers accountable to stabilize the childcare system and show providers and families that their economic security is a top priority.
Clarissa Doutherd is the executive director of Parent Voices Oakland, a grassroots, Black-led, multiracial parent-run, parent-led organization fighting for an equitable childcare system and amplifying the voices of parents from low-income communities of color. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.