On International Women’s Day (March 8), and during Women’s History Month, we call attention to and celebrate the contributions of women throughout history and in our own lives. However, we must acknowledge the inequities and biases found in our society that women continue to face. We must also recognize the intersectionality of race and gender and commit to address in our policies, our workplaces and our communities the structural inequities that persist.
As a mother and as an early childhood educator and advocate, I have personally experienced, seen and heard how critical child care is to American families, and how gender inequities are negatively impacting families as well as the early childhood workforce.
According to a U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey last year, around one in five of working-age adults said the reason they were not working was because COVID-19 disrupted their child care arrangements.
Of those not working, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to child care demands. About one in three (32%) of these women are not working because of child care, compared to 12% of men in the same age group.
That’s one of the reasons we are experiencing what some are calling a “shecession,” or female recession. More than 2.3 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic.
The U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs in December, and all of them were held by women.
As Vice President Kamala Harris recently wrote: “Without affordable and accessible child care, working mothers are forced to make an unfair choice. We have to make sure all working mothers have the support they need — during the pandemic and after. Because here’s the truth: Our economy cannot fully recover unless women can fully participate.”
And as Child Care Aware® of America has been saying for months: no child care, no recovery.
Insufficient public investment in child care leaves families and child care providers to bear the burden of supporting the current system. The high cost of child care strains the budgets of families, particularly low-income families.
At the same time, those working in child care are paid very little, undermining their ability to provide high-quality care and make ends meet for their own families.
Nearly all child care workers are women and 40% are women of color. This pandemic has exacerbated the existing inequities in the child care system. The median wage for child care workers in 2019 was $11.65 per hour, hardly a living wage.
Black early educators on average are paid $0.78 less per hour than their White peers, according to the Early Childhood Workforce Index 2020 from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California at Berkeley. Additionally, Latinx teachers are underrepresented in the role of teacher and overrepresented in aide/assistant teacher roles.
CSCCE has also documented a wage penalty for teachers working with infants and toddlers, compared to those working exclusively with children age three to five. This wage penalty disproportionately affects Black women working in child care centers, as they are more likely than their peers to work with infants and toddlers, as well as Black, Latina, and immigrant women working in home-based settings, where a large share of infants and toddlers are in care.
The child care system also reflects the structural inequities that create larger disadvantages and increased vulnerability during this pandemic. Many women of color who operate child care are small businesses owners who are already limited by low levels of personal wealth and challenges in accessing business credit, and many now face added risks due to the pandemic.
It is time that we provide substantial, sustainable public investment to expand access to high-quality, affordable child care for all families. Public investment is needed to fill the gap between what families can afford to pay and the cost of high-quality child care, including paying educators for their critical work.
For too long, child care has been overlooked. It has been the silent support enabling company productivity, individual economic mobility, school readiness, and children’s social/emotional development. But in 2020, when life as we knew it was upended, child care finally had the nation’s attention. As it turns out, women have been and still are the ones paying the price.
If we want to support women, we must direct people’s attention to changes that can transform the child care system so that it no longer perpetuates the gaps and inequities that keep children from developing to their potential, that keep parents mired in poverty and that keep providers operating on razor-thin margins. We need to leverage equity-focused data and ensure Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) leaders are in key decision-making roles.
Last month, I launched a podcast called A Seat at the Table: Conversations on Leadership, Equity and Innovation. Two of my major goals for this podcast are to lift up women’s issues and highlight the importance of female-led organizations.
So what can you do to support women who need child care and those who provide it? If you have just a few minutes, you can find the latest action alerts from MomsRising and Child Care Aware® of America. If you’re feeling inspired to do more, CCAoA created an online Advocacy from Home Toolkit that provides everything you need to meet with your member of Congress.
The facts and figures are clear: we can support women by supporting child care.