From the time COVID-19 orders were put in place, many of us have been dreaming of the day our state will reopen. Now, more than half of the states in the U.S. are starting to lift COVID-19 restrictions or have plans to start lifting them by the end of the month. However, life as we know it is far from the way we used to know it. As businesses reopen and parents struggle with the reality of trying to return to work, they are often faced with a roadblock: They don’t have anyone to help with their care needs.
Today, 47 states have closed school through the end of the academic year, about half of all U.S. day cares are closed, and, even upon reopening, experts are anticipating as much as a 20% decline in total available day care spots. Further, summer school and summer camp will not be open. As of March, The StarTribune, a Minnesota based publication, reported that all day programs for adults with disabilities will be closed for the time being; affecting more than 30,000 people. This sudden shift to having zero options has put a huge strain on working parents and families who provide care for their loved one.
As journalist Elie Mystal writes for The Nation, “Politicians want people to get back to work as soon as possible, but they seem to have no idea that without care, a huge swath of the workforce will remain tied to their homes.” For instance, in 2018, about 41% of workers between the ages of 20 and 54 had a child at home, according to an analysis of Census Bureau and Department of Labor data by The Washington Post.
Unfortunately, even with the dangers and hardships many face, they don’t have the option to stay home. As businesses reopen, people who don’t return to work due to a lack of care or fears about COVID-19 could be ineligible for unemployment because they chose to turn down work. The Ohio Office of Unemployment Insurance has actually set up a website that allows employers “to report employees who quit or refuse work when it is available due to COVID-19” so they can’t receive benefits.
So, what are we supposed to do?
Some are facing financial hardship simply because they lack options. Catherine Canbury, a mom in Pennsylvania who spoke to HuffPost about child care difficulties during the pandemic, said she has a dollar in the bank, yet is unable to work because there is no one to watch her 4-year-old son, Robbie, since his day care shut down.
It’s true that life for working parents was often a struggle even before COVID-19 became a part of daily life. The pandemic has worsened a situation that was already difficult for so many, and it remains to be seen if leaders will come up with strategies to address the problems Americans are facing. But one thing is crystal clear: If parents are ever going to get back to anything resembling “normal,” they need more support.