Over the past year, COVID-19 has magnified overwhelming inequities across the globe—and the child care sector is no exception. From rising costs of child care, vast child care deserts, and unregulated programs, access to child care impacts millions of families.
These challenges most notably affect families of color who have long faced occupational and residential segregation—and many of whom have also had less access to telework opportunities and the flexibility it affords many families with young children. These families have been forced to make mid-pandemic adjustments and choose between a job to pay the bills and proper child care.
Families are not the only ones impacted: Child care workers are disproportionately workers of color who typically don’t have access to job benefits or a livable wage. These disparities in the workforce cause great harm to certain populations, especially Black women, Latina, and immigrant women who are doing tremendously important work without proper compensation.
Child Care and Families of Color
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, child care was far from affordable and convenient for a large majority of families. More than half of Latinx and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) families lived in a child care desert; in Onslow County, more than 60 percent of families live in a child care desert and struggle to find high-quality, licensed child care options.
While it is increasingly hard to find proper child care, the cost is also exorbitant—and disproportionately impacts families of color. According to a study, a median-income Black family with two young children would have to spend 56 percent of their income on child care, a significantly larger proportion of total family income than any other racial group.
Black and multiracial families are also far more likely than white families to experience job disruptions due to child care, such as quitting a job, not taking a job, or greatly changing their job due to challenges with child care. Between pandemic-related disruptions and financial hardship, families of color are under an even greater burden to balance their careers with proper child care.
Child Care and Workers of Color
As a whole, child care workers have been historically overlooked and undervalued—and women of color are impacted significantly. While women of color represent only 20 percent of the American population, they make up 40 percent of the approximately 1.5 million child care workers in the United States. Of this percentage, women of color are overrepresented in the child care workforce: one in five (20 percent) are Latina women and 19 percent are Black women. In comparison, Latina and Black women make up just under 8 and 7 percent of the overall workforce.
The inequities in the child care system run rampant—and while very few workers make a livable wage, women of color face even greater difficulties. Black early educators who work with infants and toddlers were found to be paid $0.78 less per hour than their white peers, and this pay gap was more than doubled for Black educators who work with preschool-age children ($1.71 less per hour compared to their White peers).
Child worker wages are simply not sufficient for an overwhelming majority of workers: One in ten child care workers (10 percent) had incomes below the federal poverty line, and this number was even higher for AAPI women, Black women, Latinas, and women born outside of the U.S.
An equitable future for families and workers of color is not impossible—but it requires a much greater investment in a system that is fundamentally broken. We are hopeful that new initiatives, such as the American Rescue Plan and the American Families Plan, will be a step in a positive direction as these investments will help stabilize the sector, provide new funding for child care workers across the country, and create more affordable options for families.
Additionally, policy experts recommend placing a stronger emphasis on racial equity and centering the voices of individuals with lived experience to help forge a new path towards a more equitable, sustainable system for all families nationwide.
At One Place, our Child Care Resource and Referral Program and Quality Child Care Program educates parents and caregivers on high-quality licensed and regulated early education providers, and shares information on available options in Onslow County. We also provide early educator training and support. Learn more here.