Return to Work? Not With Child Care Still in Limbo, Some Parents Say.
Brianna McCain quit her job as an office manager when the pandemic began to care for her two young daughters. Last spring she was ready to return to work. But she couldn’t because her children are still at home.
She was looking for a job with flexible hours and the ability to work from home, but these are hard to find, especially for new hires and hourly workers. She can’t work in person until the school opens for her 6-year-old, and her district in Portland, Ore., Has not announced her plans. She also needs childcare for her 2-year-old that costs less than she earns, but the availability of childcare is far below pre-pandemic levels, and prices have increased to cover the costs of childcare measures. Covid security.
“When you start a new job in particular, there is no flexibility,” said Ms. McCain, whose partner, a warehouse worker, cannot work from home. “And with the unknowns from Covid, I don’t know if my child is going to be taken out of school for quarantine or if school is going to be shut down.”
Especially as the Delta variant spreads, many parents of young children – those under the age of 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated – say they cannot return to their workplace or apply for a new one. employment as long as there is uncertainty as to when their children can safely return. full-time school or daycare.
Businesses also struggle to hire and retain workers for other reasons, and many parents have had no choice but to work. (In a recent Census Bureau survey, 5% of parents said their children are not currently attending daycare for reasons related to the pandemic.) But for the group of parents who still have children at home – they are Disproportionately black and Latino, and some have medically vulnerable family members – this is a significant challenge.
“You can’t separate the issue of child care and the pandemic,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “It is important that we do not forget the workers who struggle with this day in and day out.”
In a survey by Indeed this summer, a third of those looking for work said they wouldn’t want to start next month, and a significant portion said they were waiting for schools to open. Of those who were unemployed but not looking for an emergency, nearly a fifth said caregiving responsibilities were the reason. Those without a college degree were more likely to cite such a reason – and more likely not to be able to work from home or afford nannies.
Summer is always a challenge for working parents, and this year it is especially true. To respect safety guidelines, many camps have opened with shorter hours and fewer children. Others have closed their doors due to the hiring shortage. And many parents do not feel comfortable sending their children because of the risk of exposure to Covid.
Autumn promises to be more and more uncertain. Some workplaces have suspended reopening plans because of Delta, and parents fear schools will follow suit. Some companies, including McDonald’s, and states, like Illinois, are trying to move forward by offering child care allowances to help parents get back to work. According to Bright Horizons, the employer-based child care company, 75 companies have started offering emergency child care services this calendar year and others, like PayPal, have extended their expanded benefits in pandemic cases throughout this year.
Most school districts still say they plan to open full time, without the shortened hours that many had last spring. And the top five nationwide have released plans to reopen, according to the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, which has been tracking district responses to the pandemic. But some plans are still sparse on details, and the districts where union negotiations are still taking place have not been able to answer all of the parents’ questions.
“What surprised us most this summer was the lack of publicly available clarity on what to expect,” said Bree Dusseault, who is leading the data effort. “Families need to know in order to be able to structure their lives. “
Even parents in districts that have already announced plans to reopen face uncertainty. Will there be before and after school daycares and extracurricular activities? Will families have to quarantine themselves for two weeks when there are cases in schools? Could schools close again if cases continue to increase?
For Alexis Lohse, a mother of two in St. Paul, Minnesota, Delta is like a detour too many. She lived in poverty as a single mother. In her 30s, she went to college, the first in her family to do so, and earned a master’s degree. She got a job in the state government and just before the pandemic had a chance to get a long-awaited promotion.
But when the schools closed, she couldn’t continue. She continued to work, but put aside all opportunities for advancement and cut her hours. (Her husband, a mailman, couldn’t.) Now her county is identified by the CDC as at a substantial level of risk, and with the school set to open right after large gatherings at the Minnesota State Fair, she is skeptical that it will be full time school will arrive.
“I don’t know how I’m getting back on track, especially with the questions that arise – how schools are reopening; when; variants; the way everyone behaves; having schools open and close at odd random times, ”she said.
She says the safety net she built for herself has been torn off: “I know how difficult it is and how our country lacks infrastructure to support parents. And it’s so frustrating that the same brick walls I hit 16 years ago, I hit again during the pandemic. “
Many parents of preschool children face a shortage of child care spaces. A third of daycares never reopened, according to research; those that are still closed have disproportionately served Asian, Latino and black families. Those that have opened are operating at 70% of their capacity on average. They have struggled to hire qualified teachers; must keep classes small to limit exposure to the virus; and raised prices to cover new health and cleaning measures.
Daphne Muller, a mother of two in Los Angeles and a consultant to tech companies, said she calls preschools almost every week to find out if there is room for her youngest: myself. I don’t want to take a job and I have to quit.
Parents should also plan for disruptions, such as quarantine periods after exposures or when case rates in the community increase.
Bee Thorp, a mother of two in Richmond, Va., Said her children’s daycare closed three times last year for two weeks each, and also cut her cleaning hours. Her husband, a lawyer, had much less flexibility than she did, so the extra care fell on her.
“What that means is that I’m not really looking for a job,” she said. “I can’t ask in an interview, ‘Do you mind if I go two weeks without notice? It’s frustrating to hear comments about people not applying for jobs. Maybe people want these jobs; they just can’t right now.
Other parents are not yet ready to send their unvaccinated children to school. Amy Kolev is a mother of three and a construction project manager in Glen Burnie, Maryland. When virtual school got too difficult, she and her husband, a software programmer, decided she would quit. She aspires to come back, but does not risk exposing her children.
“I will go back when my children are vaccinated and not a day before,” she said.
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