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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With coronavirus cases spiking and no end in sight, schools and day care centers may not fully reopen in the fall, triggering a massive child care crisis for millions of American workers.

The big picture: For months, America's parents have been juggling work, homeschooling and child care — doing whatever they can until the post-pandemic return to normalcy. But now, what seemed like a temporary predicament is turning into an ongoing ordeal.

What's happening: Schools and school districts are starting to release their plans for the fall, and, to ensure safety, many — including those in Seattle, Omaha and Fairfax County — have come up with hybrid online and in-person schedules.

That means the continuation of remote learning — which leaves behind scores of kids without access to technology — and relentless stress for parents.

  • Despite these problems, the majority of Americans agree with taking things slow. Per a new Politico-Morning Consult poll, 54% of Americans are nervous about reopening K-12 schools.

But school district plans are starting to reveal a scary reality for the 40% of U.S. workers between 20 and 54 who have children at home.

  • "Most working families need care for at least 40 hours a week, and schools were providing that," says Adrienne Schweer, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank. "If that's gone, there's nothing to fill the void."
  • Care for children under five is also in crisis, she says. The Center for America Progress projects that the pandemic will put up to 50% of day care centers out of business, erasing some 4.5 million slots for young kids.
  • Fewer slots — combined with the cost of enhanced safety measures at facilities —will drive up already sky-high price of child care.

At the same time, more and more states are reopening — and calling employees back to work.

  • That leaves few, if any, options for single-parent households or parents that cannot afford child care.
  • And even parents privileged enough to continue working from home face unsustainable situations. "People can’t realistically do their jobs properly" with kids at home, says Sarah Lux-Lee, CEO of Mindr, a consultancy that works with companies to help retain parents as employees.
  • On top of that, this new normal could set parents back in the workplace — especially mothers, who tend to bear much of the child care and homeschooling burden. There's the isolation that comes from missing happy hours or team lunches and — even worse — the possibility of being passed over for promotions or raises.

"Companies have an important role to play here," Lux-Lee says.

  • As school schedules remain at least partially remote, firms can build in flexibility for working parents by implementing shorter work days or work weeks.
  • "We need to measure people on outcomes and not on hours," she says.

The bottom line: "It feels like child care is being regarded as a footnote of reopening plans rather than a headline," Lux-Lee tells Axios. "But until schools properly reopen, there cannot be a return to business as usual."

Go deeper: Reopening schools is a coronavirus wildcard

Go deeper

Oct 6, 2020 - Health

MassMutual CEO shares concerns on remote work for younger employees

Axois' Erica Pandey (left) and MassMutal CEO Roger Crandall. Photo: Axios.

Remote work makes collaboration among colleagues harder and "is just not the same," especially for younger employees and interns who never connect with their colleagues in-person, Roger Crandall, CEO of the insurance company MassMutual, told Axios at a virtual event on Tuesday.

What he's saying: "I'm worried about what it means for culture over time, particularly for younger workers," Crandall said. "If you have people who are deep into their career, who have worked together for years, working remotely is not as hard."

Remote work erodes workers' sense of belonging

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Most Americans want the telework trend to continue after the pandemic, but there's a lingering problem that companies haven't been able to solve: working at home is isolating.

Why it matters: A sense of belonging at work is becoming increasingly important to workers — and employers who figure out how to build that into the hybrid work culture of the future will have a critical advantage when recruiting and retaining talent.

Why New York isn't going back to work

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Americans all over the country are going back to their offices, but New Yorkers aren't.

Why it matters: Office workers are super-drivers of New York City's economy and essential to its post-pandemic recovery. Scores of businesses in the city are suffocating as they delay their return to work or, worse, decide to work from home forever.

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