Sep 1, 2020 - Economy

The child care industry's plight

Illustration of a downward graph on a pile of boxes

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The child care industry is collapsing under the strain of the pandemic.

Why it matters: With parents making up a third of the U.S. workforce, the fate of schools and day care centers and the strength of the economy are inextricably linked — given that the hit to closed schools could be an estimated 3.5% of GDP.

"The child care system needs a large-scale, immediate bailout. Full stop," says Alicia Modestino, an economist at Northeastern University.

By the numbers: Without financial help, 50% of day care centers will go out of business, erasing some 4.5 million slots for young kids, the Center for American Progress projects.

  • Only 25% of child care businesses received loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
  • Day care centers got $3.5 billion in aid under the CARES act, but economists say the industry needs around $10 billion per month to make it through the coronavirus crisis. The latest stimulus package in Congress has no money earmarked for these businesses.
  • Case in point: Mary Grimmer, who owns Little Treasures Schoolhouse, which has a few locations north of Boston, told me she went from turning an $18,000 profit in February to losing $58,000 in July. Grimmer did get a PPP loan, which softened the blow.

And even the places that are open are struggling with the additional costs and burdens of running a day care during a pandemic.

  • They've had to buy new toys because kids can't share anymore; they've taken on fewer kids to abide by social distancing rules; and they've had to hire more people to keep everything sanitized. Grimmer said she had doubled her payroll after reopening.
  • "What concerns me most moving forward is another shutdown," she says. "I could not imagine how we could survive another one."

Worth noting: Women are suffering doubly as a result of the child care crisis, says Catherine White of the National Women's Law Center.

  • If centers close and jobs are lost, it'll affect women, who represent 90% of the country's child care workers. One in five of these jobs has already been lost since February.
  • "And on the other side, women are taking on the burden of caregiving responsibilities at home," says White. "They're going to lose out most and not be able to return to the workforce if there isn’t child care available."

Go deeper: Beyond the stress of overwhelmed parents or the cabin fever of restless kids, closing schools and day cares for the pandemic could cost about $700 billion in lost revenue and productivity.

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