Working parents must tackle the great challenge of balancing their personal and professional lives. This begs the question: how do I serve both the career I’m passionate about and the people who need me the most—my children?
In these times of uncertainty, this conundrum carries additional weight. The COVID-19 health emergency is affecting every aspect of our lives, from social interactions to commerce and beyond. Our economy is suffering. Small businesses are doing whatever they can to stay afloat, many relying on the camaraderie of their communities to help them remain in business. One sector particularly affected by COVID-19 and which will also play an instrumental role in our economy’s recovery is child care.
My struggles in balancing my personal and professional life pale in comparison to women without the options I was privileged enough to have. Today, women are more likely to be in frontline jobs—76% of health care jobs are held by women— and many face significant challenges based on income and resource constraints. Sectors now most impacted by the pandemic— for example, food and travel—have comparatively high female employment. In this resulting economic crisis, more women are losing their jobs. Child care is critical to support essential workers now and to enable those unemployed to get back to work.
Child care is not only tied to our country’s economy, but to the development of our nation’s children. Working parents can be more present and productive in the office knowing that their children are in a safe, supportive, and nurturing environment. Meanwhile, their children are also getting the tools they need to succeed later in education, work, and life.
Supporting working parents helps ensure that businesses succeed, stimulating our economy in the present. Supporting young children helps ensure that our economy will be prosperous in the future. That’s why, as we think about strengthening the economy post-COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, we must commit to preserving the child care industry.
With more parents staying at home and millions of Americans filing for unemployment, child care providers are struggling to survive. At the same time, parents still going into work, like health care workers and others on the front lines, are in desperate need of child care while child care providers navigate unprecedented financial obstacles.
The immense pressure on the industry comes at a complicated time for the child care industry. Working parents around the country are already facing an existing child care crisis, particularly for infants and toddlers. A lack of affordable, high-quality care leads to a number of challenges for these parents while they’re working. A 2019 Ready Nation report found that a shocking 86 percent of parents who are primary caregivers said problems with child care hurt their efforts or time commitment at work. Diminished productivity costs employers $12.7 billion annually, which contributes to a total economic loss of $57 billion per year in lost earnings, productivity, and tax revenue.
With the enormity of this crisis in mind, it’s critical that we protect this vital-yet-vulnerable sector of our nation’s economy. To stay in business throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, child care providers will need access to financial resources to maintain their workforces.
If child care providers don’t receive the additional support needed to weather the storm, many won’t be able to survive. If child care businesses struggle to reopen, working parents will have to adjust their plans to re-enter the workforce. And if working parents are delayed in re-entering the workforce, our economy’s recovery will be stunted.
In professional life, one may question how best to balance a career and children. What should never be in question, however, is that family comes first. Supporting children and the working parents who raise them are paramount in helping our nation get back on its feet. Once we sustain the child care sector, we’ll be able to repair our economy and work toward providing accessible high-quality care for working parents across the country.
Anne Mulcahy is the retired Chair & CEO of Xerox. She is a member of the ReadyNation CEO Task Force on Early Childhood and resides in Fairfield, Connecticut.