Jan 8, 2024 - Economy

The jobs recovery is lagging in the child care sector

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of employees in child care services crept up by a few thousand to 1.023 million in December — but employment in the sector still isn't back to where it was in February 2020, according to data out Friday.

Why it matters: It's somewhat surprising because there is a record share of parents — mothers, more specifically — in the job market. And their kids need child care.

  • In a typical market, an increase in demand from more parents needing care would lead to an increase in supply.
  • But child care isn't a typical industry — operators run on razor-thin margins and they're fairly constrained in what they can charge working parents.

Zoom out: Hiring's been slow, partly because this is a low-pay industry and there are better, higher-paying jobs out there.

  • Plus, pandemic-era child care funding has run out, leaving many centers scrambling.

The intrigue: Remote work may have been the saving grace here; enabling some parents to manage child care in a more ad hoc way.

  • For example, parents could forgo early morning and after-school care, if they can be home before and after school. Or log off as needed, and finish up work later in the evening.

"Probably a lot of women are working while also trying to entertain and feed children," said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.

  • "It could be a difficult situation, but I'm sure many women are grateful for the opportunity to work remotely at a time of inadequate access to child care."

The big picture: These women are likely mostly college-educated.

  • The largest increases in the employment rate for women recently have come from college-educated mothers, who are more likely to be able to work remotely.

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