About 700,000 workers left their jobs in 2020 because they had trouble finding decent child care. Lack of accessible, affordable child care disproportionately hurts rural workers, according to a study conducted just before the pandemic. Though it's unclear how the pandemic has affected rural child care and the need for it, overall child-care availability has suffered.
Beyond those forced to leave their jobs because of the need to care for children, thousands who remained employed were forced to miss work because they couldn't find child care, according to a data analysis from the Center for American Progress, Kate Queram reports for Route Fifty. Major manufacturers have reported that child care-related work absences are a key reason they're struggling to increase assembly-line output, according to the report.
Rural residents have a harder time finding child care, according to another study. "Researchers at the Bipartisan Policy Center calculated the number of childcare slots available locally and compared it to the number of children who likely needed such care because their parents were in the workforce," Olivia Weeks reports for The Daily Yonder. "They found that the 'child-care gap' in rural areas exceeded supply by 35 percent, compared to 29% in metropolitan areas. The findings were true even though researchers accounted for the longer distances rural families are likely to drive to get their children to daycare." Though the organization meant to cover all 50 states, it was only able to collect data on half of them before child-care facilities shut down in March.
The study also found that rural parents were 13% more likely to rely on informal child-care arrangements with family and friends and 6% more likely to move nearer to such people for this reason, Weeks reports.
It's unclear how the pandemic has affected the rural-urban child care gap. Recent job losses may mean less demand for child care. Women take on a disproportionate share of child-care responsibilities, and all 140,000 jobs lost nationwide in December were women. However, as Queram notes, many child-care providers have cut back on staff and hours or shuttered entirely because of the pandemic, reducing the number of slots available.
"Operating costs have increased while enrollment has plummeted. More than half of care centers nationwide were reporting daily financial losses late last year, according to one survey," Queram reports. Without more stimulus money and sustained investment in the child care sector, many parents may not be able to return to work, which could hurt economic recovery, according to the CAP analysis. The relief act passed in December included $10 billion for child care.