My kids or my job? Reopening efforts can complicate life for working mothers

Molly Gamble (Twitter) - Print  | 

There's no guarantee that reopening strategies among schools, child care providers and employers will align. This will exacerbate the burden on parents who are expected to return to work without support for their children. Mothers' careers are especially on the line. When child care providers reopen, there will be far fewer of them. Just 11 percent of providers could survive a closure of an indeterminate length of time without government support, and only 27 percent could survive a closure of a month, according to a survey of child care centers conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. 

Access to child care and its cost are family issues with an outsized effect on women. Mothers are more likely than fathers to leave their jobs when child care is hard to find or very expensive, according to a Center for American Progress analysis. Compounding this fact is the reality that pandemic-related layoffs are already hitting women harder than men

Remote-working parents confront tough decisions as their communities begin to reopen, but front-line employees at hospitals and health systems have been juggling decisions about their children and jobs for months.

Many hospitals do not offer child care for employees. Overall, only 7 percent of employers offer child care at or near the work site, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. For those that do, the benefit has taken on renewed significance during the pandemic. 

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston permanently closed its 40-year-old Child Development Center in Houston in May, which served parents working on the front lines. In an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle, Kai Li Tan, PhD —  a researcher at Texas Medical Center and parent who relied on the center for child care —  blasted the decision. 

As Houston begins to reopen, Dr. Tan writes that "parents are faced with a paramount question: How are their children going to be taken care of? Quality and affordable child care options were already scarce pre-pandemic, and full-time babysitters are expensive and not a viable long-term option."

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