Face mask with colorful COVID-19 text on a desk in a child’s room,” Ivan Radic

June 29, 2020; Center for American Progress

The Center for American Progress (CAP) asserts, to the surprise of few, that the erosion of childcare options nationally is likely to disproportionately affect families of color for many reasons, including decades of occupational and residential segregation that have resulted in fewer options to work at home.

Indeed, many women of color across the country have occupied essential frontline positions throughout the pandemic when childcare was offered in some locations to those workers. As those provisions end, it’s unclear how a decimated system that is mandated to keep children at social distance, undercutting its usual razor-thin margins, will be able to meet those needs without a significant subsidy.

Thus, households headed by parents of color will become less stable in the aftermath of the pandemic. Recovery will get more difficult with time—unless a serious intervention is accomplished.

The problem is part and parcel of racial disparities in the US. This new—but completely interruptible—disaster is piled on a longer and deeper tradition of inequity:

In fact, more than half of Latinx and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) families lived in a child care desert—an area with an inadequate supply of licensed child care. Affordability also posed a significant challenge, especially for Black families. A typical, median-income Black family with two young children would have to spend 56 percent of its income on child care, a larger share of total family income than that of any other group.

Inadequate supply paired with high costs left parents with few options: spend outside their budgets; find cheaper, sometimes lower-quality care; or reduce their labor force participation. Previous CAP research found that in the years leading up to the pandemic, more than two million parents each year resorted to the latter option. Now, new analysis of data from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) reveals that before the pandemic, Black and multiracial parents experienced child care-related job disruptions—such as quitting a job, not taking a job, or greatly changing their job—due to problems with child care at nearly twice the rate of white parents. [Latinx] and Asian American parents also experienced elevated rates of job disruptions; however, these differences were not statistically significant.

CAP projects that nearly 4.5 million child care slots could disappear permanently as a result of COVID-19, and more than 336,000 child care providers—many of whom are immigrantsAfrican American, or Latinx—lost their positions in the first few months of the pandemic.

CAP is calling on Congress to stabilize the childcare system—first by investing at least $50 billion through the Child Care Is Essential Act now, and then to invest more deeply in this critical element of infrastructure in future budgets as a core principle of equity and as a core investment in our collective future prosperity.—Ruth McCambridge