NEWS

How Parents Are Navigating Childcare Shortages During the Pandemic

Child care.

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Key Takeaways

  • Parents, especially parents of color, struggle to access quality, affordable, and culturally competent child care.
  • The pandemic has exacerbated childcare availability.
  • Experts say the government, school districts, employers, and parents all need to collaborate to find solutions.

After nearly two years of remote learning and socially distant “pandemic pods,” children of all ages are finally returning back to in-person schooling and care. Now more than ever, parents are relying on childcare centers to care for their kids while navigating work schedules.

However, for many parents, especially parents of color, accessing child care during the pandemic has been a struggle.

Camille Kelly, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in San Diego, California, and a Filipina mother of a Filipina and Black child, struggled to find access to a childcare center during the pandemic.

“I put myself on probably five to six wait-lists for different childcare centers in San Diego,” Kelly tells Verywell. “I even paid hundreds of dollars to be on some of the wait-lists.”

These wait-lists are a byproduct of childcare shortages across the nation. According to Lea J.E. Austin, MPA, executive director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, there are not enough childcare workers available. 

“We had child care shortages before the pandemic, all across the country,” Austin tells Verywell. “There are communities in which you can identify childcare deserts, which means the demand for childcare is much greater than the supply that’s available.”

Childcare availability has always been a long-standing issue. However, it was exacerbated by the pandemic. Since February 2020, over 108,000 childcare jobs were lost, according to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.

In addition to the pandemic, the issue has been largely fueled by high turnover rates due to low pay. “The childcare workforce in this country has been severely underpaid,” Austin says. “It is one of the lowest-paid occupations in this country.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the hourly mean wage of workers in child daycare services was only $12.05. At 40 hours per week, the weekly rate is roughly $482, a rate that is less than half the national median weekly earnings of $990 per week.

How Does Child Care Impact Health?

Access to early care and education can have profound health impacts on children. This early care can increase access to health screenings, health care, improved nutrition, and other health-promoting activities. In the long-term, it can lead to improvements in education which are linked to better health outcomes are children age.

Families Face the Impact

As a result of these shortages, families began reducing their work hours or dropping work altogether, Austin adds.

“So parents were already reducing their hours, dropping out of the workforce entirely, and really that burden ultimately fell on mothers, because they either couldn’t afford or couldn’t access child care,” Austin says.

For Desiree S. Coleman, MPA, a public speaker and activist in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space, and a mother of two Black children, not being able to afford child care prompted her move to St. Louis, Missouri from Washington, D.C.

“I lived in D.C. for nine years,” Coleman tells Verywell. “And really, the motivating factor to leave was the fact that daycare was more than our mortgage.”

According to the Center for American Progress, the cost of licensed child care is not within reach for most families; it accounts for 21% of the U.S. median income for a family of three.

The cost of child care varies depending on the type of care and the age of the child. The U.S. monthly average of care costs:

  • $1,324 per month for center-based infant child care
  • $1,096 per month for center-based toddler child care
  • $889 per month for center-based preschool child care
  • $1,141 per month for family child care

Finding Quality Care

Unfortunately, finding an available childcare center is only half the battle. For Kelly and Coleman, it was extremely difficult to find high-quality childcare centers, with high quality being defined as centers with:

  • Professionally trained and culturally competent staff
  • Low child per childcare worker ratio
  • Resources 
  • Large spaces 
  • More time for childcare workers and teachers to plan out lessons

“In big childcare centers, you don’t see very many children, teachers, or staff of color,” Kelly says.

According to Data USA, in 2019, White childcare workers made up over 50% of the childcare workforce, compared to 14.6% of Black, 6.67% of Hispanic, 3.9% of Asian, and 0.567% of American Indian childcare workers in the U.S.

As a mother of Filipino and Black children, Kelly says that she hasn’t had the best experiences with predominately White facilities. Kelly recalls that when her daughter was teething, a common development stage for toddlers, she was treated differently from other children.

“One of the schools said they didn’t know how to deal with her, so they would separate her from the other kids,” Kelly explains. “They didn’t have educational interventions for her. Instead, she [Kelly’s daughter] was made out to be the problem child.”

“We’re constantly being notified that she was aggressive,” Kelly adds. “And she was the only Black child at school. At one point, they recommended that we just keep her out of school.”

Therefore, it was important to Kelly that childcare centers had diverse, culturally competent, and professionally trained staff.

However, these centers can be out of reach for many low-income families and families of color. In New York, the monthly cost of child care per child is $1,872 for infants, $1,471 for toddlers, and $1,150 for preschoolers. The cost increases as the quality (i.e. fewer children per teacher, more resources, bigger classrooms) increases. For a high-quality childcare setting in New York, it would cost $2,593 per month for infants, $2,019 per month for toddlers, and $1,561 for preschools.

What This Means For You

To learn how much child care costs in your state, visit costofchildcare.org

Addressing the Childcare Crisis 

According to a report published by the San Diego Workforce Partnership and San Diego Foundation, addressing the childcare crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, requiring the collaboration of multiple stakeholders, such as the government, school districts, employers, and parents.

They call for: 

  • Expansion of high-quality childcare that meets the demands of working parents
  • Employers supporting working parents
  • State and federal dollars to support child care

“We have to radically transform how early care and education are treated and funded in this country. We need a publicly funded system,” Austin says. “We have to break the loop between what parents can afford and what teachers in the system earn.”

Currently, Coleman lives in Saint Louis with her two daughters. Kelly is expecting her second child in San Diego. 

To this day, Kelly has not received a call back from any childcare centers. 

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. Child care sector jobs: BLS analysis. Updated October 11, 2021. 

  2. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Childcare workers. Updated March 31, 2021. 

  3. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Usual weekly earnings of wage and salary workers second quarter 2021. Published July 16, 2021. 

  4. Morrissey T. The effects of early care and education on children’s health. Health Aff. Published April 25, 2019. doi:10.1377/hpb20190325.519221

  5. Center for American Progress. The true cost of high-quality child care across the United States. Published June 28, 2021. 

  6. Data USA. Childcare workers. Updated June 25, 2020.

  7. San Diego Workforce Partnership and San Diego Foundation. What can San Diego do? Updated April 19, 2021.