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For low-income parents, no daycare often means no pay

It’s become a familiar routine: her daughter’s daycare is closed, so Hannah Watland is home without pay.

In the meantime, his expenses are piling up. She owes $500 in rent and $600 a month for daycare, whether it’s open or not. His bank account dropped to $20.

“We barely got by,” said Watland, who earns $14 an hour at her retail job in Rapid City, SD. “Every day we’re not working is a lot of money. who does not fit.”

The latest wave of coronavirus cases has disrupted even the best-laid childcare arrangements. But low-income parents have been disproportionately hit by a double whammy in recent weeks – losing both childcare and income at much higher rates than their wealthier counterparts, data analysis shows. Washington Post census survey.

Daycare closures and other child care interruptions rose sharply from December to January as cases of the omicron variant peaked across the country, but were more common in households earning less than $25,000 per year, according to data from the Census Household Pulse survey. shows.

In the first two weeks of January, 30% of households with children under the age of 11 reported interruptions in childcare in the past four weeks, compared to 22% in December – because children fell ill or died. in quarantine after exposure to the coronavirus, or daycares have closed due to outbreaks or lack of staff.

When child care centers closed, low-income families were more likely to take unpaid leave or leave their jobs altogether. This contrasts with high-income families, who often make do by using paid holidays and sick leave, watching their children while working or cutting back their hours. Households earning $50,000 or less per year were much more likely to take a pay cut than those earning $100,000 or more per year.

Additionally, only a third of the nation’s lowest-paid workers had access to paid sick leave in March 2021, compared to 95% of workers in the top 105 earners, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mia Rodriguez, who recently started a $10-an-hour job at her daughter’s daycare in Wichita, doesn’t get paid sick leave. So when her 1-year-old tested positive for coronavirus in December, she had to take a week without pay while continuing to pay for childcare.

The 25-year-old got a $200 cash advance on a credit card to cover childcare costs for her daughter that week. She also struggled to buy diapers and formula.

“It was like, fuck, I wish I didn’t have to use credit card debt, but what are you going to do?” said Rodriguez, who asked to be identified by her maiden name because she fears repercussions at work. “It’s very difficult when you don’t get a paycheck but still have to pay the bills.”

Inequalities in child care interruptions are another example of how the pandemic recession has deepened inequalities nationwide. Low-income, and often service-sector workers, have suffered higher job losses and greater exposure to the virus in those jobs. They also experience the problems of soaring inflation more deeply, according to research.

Disparities in how families handle child care interruptions underscore the lopsided safety net in the United States, said Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan economics professor and former White House economic adviser. of Obama. The country’s highest-paid workers are also the most likely to have other protections such as sick leave, vacation and health insurance, she said. And if they need to borrow money, wealthier Americans generally get more favorable terms.

“The issue isn’t just compensation,” Stevenson said. “It’s also that we provide more stability and resources for higher income people. It’s a lot harder to smooth things out when you’re low income and you don’t have as much savings or you don’t have access to low-cost credit. Having to take unpaid leave can impose real hardship.”

In interviews with nearly two dozen parents of varying incomes who don’t get paid time off or who have exhausted it, all said they’ve faced significant COVID-related childcare disruptions since December. Many described going without pay for several weeks and, in some cases, having to stop altogether to care for their children. Others said they were postponing job searches or sticking to on-demand work because of childcare uncertainties.

To make ends meet, parents in low-income jobs said they relied more on credit cards, hired extra roommates, or worked extra jobs, such as bartending or delivering to restaurants, in the evenings and weekend.

Watland, the mother from Rapid City, SD, has started selling her belongings – including a diamond necklace she got for her high school graduation, a laptop and a Puma jacket – on eBay . Neither Watland nor her fiancé, who works in the restaurant business, get paid time off, which means there’s no money coming in when they’re not working. Two weeks ago, her entire family tested positive for coronavirus the same day they found out their water and gas would be cut off for non-payment.

“Sometimes I have to ask my parents for help, but they’re pretty broke too,” the 24-year-old said.

Pandemic-era childcare disruptions have hit hardest those without families or resources to fall back on. Studies show that lack of childcare is more likely to harm mothers, especially if their children are under 6 years old. During the first year of the crisis, working mothers were more likely to reduce work or quit their jobs due to child-care disruptions than fathers, according to a study published in the JAMA Health Forum .

“It’s a very familiar theme, in that the pandemic has intensified pre-existing inequalities,” said Nancy Folbre, an economist and retired professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where her research has focused on the gender and care work. “We have locked ourselves into a growing problem.”

The Biden administration has flagged affordable child care as one of its top priorities. Last year’s American Rescue Plan Act provided $39 billion for child care funding, including grants for child care providers and grants to help low-income families. to pay for child care. Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which is stalled in the Senate, also includes measures such as free universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Kevin Flanagan of Seekonk, Mass., lost his $50,000-a-year job at a car dealership at the start of the pandemic. Two years later, he took a major pay cut for an $18-an-hour job as a medical courier so he could adjust to seemingly endless daycare and school closures for his 2-and-5-year-old children. 7 years.

His daughter’s daycare, which costs $342 a week, has closed three times since December, for at least a week each time, he said. A few weeks ago, he received a call as he was starting his morning deliveries. A teacher had tested positive for coronavirus, which meant he had to pick up his daughter within the hour.

“It’s like a punch every time,” said Flanagan, 42. “The last thing I want to hear is, ‘Kevin, you’re unreliable, so we have to let you go. It makes me feel like I won’t be able to look for a job anytime soon.”

In Emporia, Kan., Paul Brosemer says he sometimes has no choice but to take his children, ages 3 and 8, with his job to a surveying company. He has used up all of his paid time off and now has to take unpaid time off every time the daycare closes.

The daycare charges $500 a month whether or not her toddler can attend. To cover the costs, Brosemer takes on bartending and warehouse shifts after his wife comes home from her job at a car dealership.

“There are whole weeks where we don’t even get a paycheck,” the 36-year-old said. “I’m stressed and my bank account isn’t what it was a year ago because of all these quarantines. You just want to scream every day.