Nov 16, 2022 - Economy

Lack of child care is keeping record number of parents out of work

Data: BLS Current Population Survey; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: BLS Current Population Survey; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of people who couldn't get to work last month because of child care issues shot up to the highest since the government has tracked the data, reports Abha Bhattarai in the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The data underscores how important child care is to a functioning economy, especially at a time — like this "tripledemic" fall — when more people are getting sick.

What happened: October saw surging levels of respiratory illness in kids, plus COVID, plus the flu. So, parents took time off to care for sick children — from workplaces that are still short-staffed in many cases.

  • "Workplaces are reporting unfilled shifts and lost revenue as employees call out for extended periods of time," Bhattarai writes.

Yes, but: These are small numbers relative to the size of the entire U.S. workforce. Still, they signify a growing problem.

Meanwhile, the grownups who look after children while parents work are getting sick, too. When that happens, parents — again — can't go to work.

  • Some schools were so short-staffed due to worker illnesses they had to shut down temporarily, the Post reports.
  • More broadly, the child care sector is still struggling with worker shortages, making it more likely that parents will stay home when something comes up.

The intrigue: There's a much broader debate now about what's causing a decline in worker productivity in the U.S.

  • Some maintain the issue is that so many people recently switched jobs, and are still getting up to speed at work. The WSJ recently reported that COVID and an increasing number of sick workers also plays a role.

The bottom line: The child care piece of the puzzle shouldn't be overlooked.

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