This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
As Tampa Bay’s economy comes to life, child care providers remain mired in the woes of the pandemic, struggling to find workers and keep their doors open. But without reliable child care, the wider economy cannot fully reopen, workers cannot return to work, and children suffer. Far from being an isolated struggling industry, child care is kind of a canary in the coal mine, and we should all hear the warning.
Times Associate Editor-in-Chief Allison Ross recently reported on the challenges for Tampa Bay daycares to reopen – and stay open – as the pandemic continues. Child care was a tenuous and only marginally profitable business before COVID-19. Now it is on the brink of collapse due to staff shortages, frequent disruptions due to coronavirus quarantines and threats to worker health. “We don’t know from day to day if we’re going to have a job, if the school is going to close. The anxiety is really there, ”an educator told The Times.
With an industry median wage hovering around $ 12 an hour, it’s difficult to recruit workers when even McDonald’s pays $ 15. Providers cannot pay more, as that would mean an increase in tuition fees. And there are risks associated with the job, being close to unvaccinated children. Between June 2020 and mid-September, Hillsborough County recorded about 2,200 cases of coronavirus in day care centers – a likely undercoverage, Ross reported. Every new case in a school forces children and teachers to self-quarantine. When classrooms have to close, providers can lose critical tuition fees, making the difference between staying open and shutting down permanently.
It is the precarious economic model that millions of working parents rely on. A recent story at Bloomberg described child care in the United States as “the rare example of an almost entirely private market in which the service offered is too expensive for both consumers and the companies providing it”. In most states, Bloomberg noted, full-time baby care costs more than tuition in the state. If that seems out of reach for many families, it is.
The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance site, recently surveyed 2,000 parents nationwide about how they manage childcare costs. Some 40 percent took on debt to pay for child care, 38 percent took on a second job, and 28% had to choose between paying for child care or paying rent. It is an untenable reality that weighs on families from top to bottom of the income ladder.
On December 15, millions of parents will receive the last monthly payment of the expanded child tax credit authorized in the stimulus bill President Joe Biden signed in March. He has led payments to families of up to $ 3,600 per child, half of which has been distributed in monthly payments throughout this year, with the other half being a tax refund next year. Money was essential for lift children out of poverty, feed families and allow parents to return to work.
The extra money was enacted as an emergency measure to help Americans weather the pandemic, but it is expected to become a long-term policy. Last month, the House passed Biden’s massive spending program, which, among other things, would extend additional payments for another year and increase income limits on tax credits for poor families. Senate Democrats are trying to get the bill to the president’s office before the recess. Letting this precious aid expire is no way to start the new year and disrupt the economic recovery.
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Ask many parents of young children about child care and they’ll tell you it’s hard to find and even harder to pay for. Meanwhile, providers in Tampa Bay and beyond are struggling to hire staff, enroll children, and afford to stay open under the specter of COVID-19. If there has ever been a time to support a system in crisis, this is it. The need is clear and the solution is already helping: a middle class tax cut that strengthens families and stimulates the economy.
Editorials are the corporate voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Members of the Editorial Board are Editorial Board Editor Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chief Executive Officer Paul Tash. To follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.