For working families, among the many things the pandemic has shown, is how vital child care is to continued employment.
With schools and day cares closed, taking fewer students, or less appealing for health reasons, many Americans have dropped out of the workforce altogether to watch young kids.
Almost 9 million said they are out of work this month because they had to stay home to care for a child not in school or an elderly person, according a U.S. Census data released Wednesday.
The report, which shows a 1.1 million increase in people not working because of home-care burdens since the beginning of May, highlights the drag on the economy that the lack of affordable care for children and the elderly has, particularly on women and people of color.
The new data comes on the heels of a $775 billion, 10-year plan outlined Tuesday by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, that he says would provide affordable options for millions of those workers.
“I think it can be seen as an infrastructure investment,” said Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, which estimates Biden’s plan could allow 3 million people who have been sidelined by the costs of child and elder care to return to the workforce. “It’s shovel ready.”
Biden said the $775 billion program would add jobs and boost pay for caregivers, eliminate waiting lists for home and community care under Medicaid and provide universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. He also proposes additional tax breaks and subsidies to make child care more affordable. It would all be financed by taxes on real-estate investors with incomes of more than $400,000 as well as increased tax compliance by high-income earners.
President Donald Trump’s campaign criticized the plan because it added a greater tax burden on other Americans.
Without anywhere to send their children, women and people of color are most likely to drop out of the workforce, and since the pandemic began, those groups have taken the biggest employment hits.
But even before Covid-19 lockdowns, the high cost of child care and lack of availability hurt women’s employment and the economy, studies have found. When Elizabeth Warren released her universal childcare plan last year, an analysis by Moody Analytics estimated it would add $702 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product in its first 10 years by allowing more people — mostly women — to work.
“Even before the pandemic this was a system in crisis,” said Katie Hamm, vice president of early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress.
Daycare providers, which were already near insolvency when running close to capacity, are now facing even greater financial strain. Many have fewer kids because parents are afraid to send children back or because of social distancing mandates. That may mean about half of the businesses fail, taking 4.5 million spots out of the system, a study by the National Association for the Education of Young Children found.
The pandemic has also made families rethink elder care, as the virus has ravaged long-term care facilities across the country. While more people would prefer help at home, Medicaid’s waitlist for in-home services is more than 800,000, said Rebecca Cokley, director of the Center for American Progress Disability Justice Initiative. Again, when help isn’t available, women are more likely to provide care.
Without investment and support, the backlog won’t be solved, Cokley said. Before the pandemic, an estimated 4.2 million jobs were going to be needed to fill home care roles by 2026. “But I actually think the numbers are going to be significantly higher,” Cokley said. “Baby Boomers are not going to want to go into nursing homes after watching what’s happened with Covid.”
Biden’s plan would provide $450 billion to give more people the option for home care.
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