United Way of Pennsylvania, United Way of Bucks County and ReadyNation recently released a report, which found that solving the nation’s child care crisis holds the key in bringing women back into the workforce and repairing the pandemic’s damage to the economy.
The report, “Female Labor Force Participation Is Key to PA’s Economic Recovery,” represents data showing that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted women’s employment. According to the report, in the first quarter of 2021, female workforce participation nationwide was at its lowest rate in more than 30 years.
In Pennsylvania, unemployment insurance claims were higher for women than for men from January 2020 to January 2021, peaking at 22.3 percent (vs. 19.3 percent for men). More than four times as many Pennsylvania women were unemployed in December 2020 than in December 2019. Female workforce participation is not expected to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels until late 2024.
Cited in the report, a March 2021 survey by the United Way of Pennsylvania’s ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) project described the impact that child care concerns had on the state’s working families.
The vast majority of families (82 percent ALICE; 79 percent non-ALICE) reported some concern with child care due to the pandemic. Nearly half (45 percent) of all families with children had to adjust their work lives to accommodate child care needs. Among families below the ALICE threshold, more than half (57 percent) reduced their work hours or left their jobs completely.
The ReadyNation report was released in conjunction with a virtual event, hosted by United Way of Bucks County. The video of the panel discussion is available here. The speakers at the event, Working Women UNITED for Child Care, included:
– Jeane Vidoni, President & CEO, Penn Community Bank
– Tiffany Thomas-Smith, Senior Partner/Owner, The Thomas-Smith Firm
– Valerie Hamilton, Director, Children of God Educational Services, LLC
– Marissa Christie, President & CEO, United Way of Bucks County
– Candi Guerrero, Director of Education, United Way of Bucks County
– Local mothers who are subject matter experts with lived experience
“Employees’ struggles with child care during the pandemic have certainly impacted the operations of many businesses,” said Vidoni. “In fact, a survey by the PA Chamber showed that more than half of employers that lost employees during the pandemic attributed the loss to child care issues. Child care is a persistent, ongoing problem that needs our immediate attention if our economic recovery is to continue.”
The panel conversation touched on the current challenges facing the child care sector. According to a study conducted by partners of the Start Strong PA Campaign last month, 92 percent of Pennsylvania child care programs are facing staffing shortages. This is resulting in more than half of child care programs having closed one or more classrooms. Statewide, that leaves about 26,000 kids on current waiting lists.
Participants noted that recently-released federal child care pandemic relief funds will help stabilize the current system and prevent more closures, but cautioned that ongoing investments are needed to address systemic issues like low staff wages, low reimbursement rates for providers participating in the subsidized child care program, and the shortage of high-quality care options for working families.
“It is common knowledge that working mothers have been disproportionately impacted by COVID,” said Christie. “It is common knowledge that filling essential jobs benefits us all. That means it’s common sense that we come together, united, to address the child care crisis and return women to work.”