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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When schools close down, the whole economy suffers.

Why it matters: Beyond the stress of overwhelmed parents or the cabin fever of restless kids, closing schools for COVID-19 could cost about $700 billion in lost revenue and productivity, according to a Barron's analysis — a whopping 3.5% of GDP.

How it works: Schools exist to educate children — but they also serve a vitally important child care function, looking after kids so that their parents can go to work.

  • Parents are losing work hours — or even quitting their jobs — as schools and day-care centers remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That hinders economic growth.

By the numbers: Working parents make up around a third of the U.S. workforce.

  • 13% of them lost their jobs or cut back hours due to child care challenges during the pandemic, according to a June survey conducted by Northeastern University. And even if parents can work and care for their kids at the same time, it's impossible to be as productive.
  • On average, a working parent loses around eight hours a week — or a full workday — due to pandemic-era childcare responsibilities, per research by Alicia Modestino, an economist at Northeastern University.

That goes up to 10 hours per week when considering lower-income Americans or people of color. Both groups are disproportionately represented in essential, in-person jobs and can't make up for lost time with early mornings or late nights.

What they're saying: "This is a big drag on the economy," Modestino tells Axios. "Working parents are in every state, in every industry, and in every occupation. The macro implications are really, really big."

  • "Even if you’re lucky enough to have a teleworking situation, it’s really hard to work at full capacity when you’re essentially acting as a teaching assistant," adds Misty Heggeness, a visiting scholar at the Minneapolis Fed.

The bottom line: Schools are a key part of the engine driving the American economy. When they close, everybody suffers.

Go deeper

Nov 29, 2020 - Health

New York City to reopen public schools with weekly testing

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York on Nov. 28. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

Some New York City schools will be allowed to reopen for in-person learning as early as Dec. 7, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday.

The state of play: De Blasio said schools will no longer be forced to shutter when the city hits a 3% COVID-19 test positivity rate, but he did not specify what the new threshold will be. The school district will mandate weekly tests for 20% of children in each school, and students will not be tested before they return.

30 mins ago - Axios Twin Cities

Brooklyn Center mayor in the spotlight after Daunte Wright shooting

Mike Elliott has moved swiftly after the death of Daunte Wright. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images)

The killing of Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer has thrust Mayor Mike Elliott into the national spotlight.

The big picture: Elliott, with the backing of the city council, has acted quickly and boldly in the wake of the shooting. He fired longtime city manager Curt Boganey, took control of the police department and called for the firing of officer Kim Potter, who resigned on Tuesday.

Exclusive: White House meeting with members of Problem Solvers Caucus

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus discuss the COVID-19 relief bill in December. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top White House officials will meet Wednesday with a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers as the administration tries to enlist moderates to support the president's infrastructure proposal.

Why it matters: The meeting is something of an olive branch after President Biden's team courted groups of progressives to back the $2.2 trillion package.