The childcare crisis has existed in the United States for more than two decades, but it has become an even bigger challenge since the COVID-19 pandemic, making it seem nearly impossible for many working parents to both have a career and provide care for their children. Although this is a systemic problem — requiring intervention and change from local, regional, and national governments — there are steps that employers can take to alleviate their employees of this burden and make it possible for working parents to have dependable care for their children while they build careers that matter to them.
As an employer, here are the steps you can take to support your employees who are impacted by this national issue.
WHAT IS THE CHILDCARE CRISIS?
Access to affordable and reliable childcare has been a long-time concern for families in the United States, with the pandemic only making this issue seemingly more difficult. Although the federal government provided states with nearly $24 billion in stabilization funds to keep child care services afloat as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, according to CNBC, the program expired in September 2023. That means that more than 70,000 child care providers who benefited from the program are now likely to close, shutting down care for approximately 3.2 million kids.
Additionally, childcare is astronomically expensive, driven by low wages for childcare workers, strict labor laws, and high real estate costs for quality centers. The Care.com 2023 Cost of Care Report states that “67% are spending 20% or more of their annual household income on child care (up from 51% in 2022), and 89% spend 10% or more of their annual household income on child care (up from 72% in 2022),” amounting to more than $9,600 per child this year.
Not only is childcare a financial burden but it’s also a scarcity. The Care.com 2023 Cost of Care Report found that “three in four parents estimate that there are fewer than half a dozen daycare centers within a 20-minute drive of their home.” Furthermore, for the daycare centers that do exist, it’s not uncommon for parents to have to sit on a waitlist for several months or even a year before availability opens up, leaving them scrambling to find other childcare options in the meantime.
The childcare crisis isn’t just an inconvenience — it's a barrier to employment for thousands of parents who can’t work without someone to care for their children, often leading them to need to quit their jobs.
THE NEGATIVE IMPACT OF THE CHILDCARE CRISIS ON WORKING PARENTS
The childcare crisis has several negative impacts on working parents, with the repercussions below being only some of the many larger issues at hand.
As shared above, parents are spending more than they can afford on childcare, with average costs amounting to around $9,600 per child per year. This means that any household with two kids or more could be paying more than double that price, which is a huge expense to pay in addition to many other services needed to live. They may also intentionally choose to limit the number of children they have to keep costs down. Eventually, it gets to the point where parents must determine if their net income after childcare expenses justifies remaining in the workforce or not.
Mental and Emotional Health
When parents are constantly thinking and worrying about whether they should choose expensive but quality childcare, more affordable but potentially lower-quality options, or leaving the workforce, they can experience significant stress and anxiety. Additionally, if a parent needs to exit the workforce to care for their children, they’re likely to face “identity loss” and decreased self-esteem due to leaving behind a career that made them feel purposeful. Parents may also struggle with achieving a work-life balance if they’re juggling multiple jobs to pay for childcare or if they’re taking care of their children in addition to working.
Economic and Career Advancement Barriers
The childcare crisis can further emphasize inequalities, as the families who can afford quality childcare receive access to it while families who can’t afford it don’t receive access, potentially affecting the early development opportunities for children from lower-income households. According to Forbes, parents of color experience job disruptions related to childcare at nearly double the rate of white parents, indicating a significant inequality in career stability and advancement opportunities.
As for an economic impact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that as many as 100,000 parents in the United States are forced to stay home from work each month due to childcare problems, costing the economy $122 billion annually in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue.
Lastly, parents who are unable to secure childcare struggle to participate in the workforce or access job training, which is essential for career advancement. They may need to take unplanned absences or reduce their working hours to take care of their children, which can affect their job performance and opportunities for promotion.
HOW EMPLOYERS CAN ALLEVIATE THE CHILDCARE CRISIS
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to support your employees who are impacted by the childcare crisis and determine ways you can alleviate this strain on them. Whether you provide direct assistance or advocate for systemic change, your employees rely on you to be there for them.
Flexible Work Schedules
Flexible work schedules make it possible for working parents to continue building a career they love while providing for their children. Whether you allow the option of remote work or let your employees work flex hours outside of the standard 9-5 schedule, these accommodations make it possible for working parents to balance both their career and parenting. Additionally, flexibility can help parents manage unexpected childcare disruptions without losing their jobs, such as when sickness or inclement weather strike.
If your company is able to offer childcare benefits, such as on-site childcare or subsidies to offset the cost of childcare, that’s a great avenue to pursue for your employees who are parents. This is especially helpful for companies that require a hybrid or fully in-person working schedule. On-site childcare particularly comes in handy when there are school closures involved, whether it’s for holidays, school breaks, or weather.
These benefits not only help retain current employees but can also be a significant draw for prospective hires.
Paid Family Leave
As many employers don’t offer paid family leave, parents often return to work too quickly after the birth of their child in order to prevent a high number of lost wages. An article by Third Wayshares the following statistics:
- 1 out of 4 new moms return to work within just two weeks of giving birth.
- The average American father takes just one week off after the birth or adoption of their child.
By offering paid family leave, parents have more time to settle into their new role and secure childcare options without feeling the pressure of getting back to work too quickly so they can keep getting paid.
Employers can advocate for local and national policies that support childcare for working families, recognizing that systemic change is needed for long-term solutions. Moms First and Chamber of Mothers are two organizations that employers can support, donate to, and volunteer for. Don’t hesitate to directly speak with your employees to ask how you can best support them, too.
SUPPORTING PARENTS IN THE WORKPLACE
Provide Options for Childcare to Ensure Career Advancement
Employers can make a significant difference in the childcare crisis by offering innovative benefits and flexible policies that support their employees and set a new standard for the American workplace. Advocacy is one part of our three-fold mission here at MomUp. We partner with local and state organizations to address issues of paid leave, childcare, the wage gap, and more. Through our work, we will always speak up when it comes to helping companies advance and succeed by partnering with them to address issues of gender diversity and gender equity.
Contact us to learn more about our advocacy work.