This blog is part of a series on the impact that COVID-19 has had on the child care industry and children and families in Onslow County.
As a growing number of child care centers have closed in the past year, families and caregivers in Onslow County have faced increased difficulties in finding accessible, safe, and affordable child care.
In March 2020, nearly two-thirds of child care providers nationwide said they could not survive a closure that extended longer than two weeks without significant public investment, and 17% percent said they would not survive a closure of any amount of time without support. Many North Carolina families, particularly women of color, noted difficulty in finding an accessible child care provider during the pandemic.
This, coupled with staggering job loss numbers and lack of employer support for those employed, has forced many families to make tough decisions between returning to the workforce, searching for a new job, or staying at home.
Although the child care ecosystem remains tenuous, President Biden announced one of the largest investments in the sector on April 15th, 2021: $39 billion in relief funds to help child care providers stay in business or reopen. North Carolina will receive over $800,000 to help care centers provide a healthy and safe environment, keep their workers on payroll, and offer mental health support for both educators and children. The American Rescue Plan Act also includes a wide range of vital initiatives to help children and families nationwide.
This act appears to be a positive step forward in repairing the state of the American child care landscape and providing parents nationwide with the opportunity to return to the workforce—but there is still work to be done, particularly when it comes to the relationship between employers and child care.
The Importance of Child Care Access
Without access to high-quality, accessible, and affordable child care, many North Carolina parents cannot work. In Onslow County, these challenges are heightened due to 68 percent of families living in a child care desert and limited public transportation options, further exacerbating the lack of child care options for local families. Additionally, the exorbitant cost of child care prevents many parents from making child care an option for their children.
Without accessible child care, parents are forced to stay home—and without jobs, parents cannot build the skills and experience necessary to empower them to afford high-quality care. This vicious cycle, unsurprisingly, most deeply impacts women and women of color. In a December 2020 study, North Carolina women of color more frequently reported that their child care provider is no longer available, they cannot find an alternative, or they cannot afford one due to reduced income. Prior to the pandemic, the workforce in Onslow County was comprised of 55% women, meaning the economic fallout of even a small percentage of those women not returning to work impacts the county overall.
This lack of access to high-quality child care in Onslow County and North Carolina, however, is not new. Even before the pandemic, many North Carolina families said they were forced to quit their jobs, move to part-time work, or reduce their work hours as a result of child care problems. And although the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated these issues, the lack of affordable options is a symptom of long-term underfunding and overburdening of the American child care ecosystem.
Rebuilding a Stronger North Carolina
In addition to impacting the financial stability and upward mobility of many families, child care closures also significantly impact the state’s overall economy.
Prior to the pandemic as a result of inadequate child care, North Carolina working parents lose $3,870 yearly; throughout the course of early childhood and up to age 8, working parents lose $19,960—numbers that have undoubtedly risen because of COVID-19. As a state, North Carolina loses an estimated $1.5 billion in parental income each year through lost earnings, reduced productivity at work, and in time spent searching for a job.
While the child care ecosystem requires federal and state support to fund and stabilize child care centers, employers can certainly play a major role in helping working families. A study from December 2020 asked North Carolina families to rank what employer benefits would be more valuable for them: 41 percent said flexible working hours, 40 percent said on-site child care, 35 percent said subsidized child care, 27 percent said flexible spending accounts, and 27 percent said child care referral services.
To build a stronger North Carolina and Onslow County, parents need access to affordable, high-quality child care—which requires a collaborative, comprehensive effort from policymakers, employers, and more. While the American Rescue Plan Act is a strong start, the child care sector requires long-term federal, state, and local investment to ensure that centers can remain open and parents can return to work.
At One Place, our Child Care Resource and Referral Program educates parents and caregivers on high-quality licensed and regulated early education centers, providing information on available options in Onslow County. We also provide early childhood educator training and support.
To learn more, click here: https://www.oneplaceonslow.org/for-parents-and-early-educators/