How COVID Overwhelmed an Already Stressed System

Five Takeaways:

Child care needs to be treated as a public good. The Child Care and Development Block Grant barely helped the failing system before the pandemic, as 449,000 children lost care since 2006, Matthews said. The COVID-19 pandemic caused operating costs to increase, depleting an already unstable system. Widespread closures of child care centers are certain to occur if government aid is not approved – and Black and Latino families will disproportionately be affected. Matthews said that $9.6 billion is needed each month for the duration of the pandemic to stabilize the system. (For data on child care funding, click here.)

Families living in poverty spend an average of 30% of their income on child care. Children of color, immigrant children and low-income families are more likely to struggle to cover the costs, with 72% of Latino and 69% of Black families unable to afford care, Matthews said.

Women are most at risk of a collapse of the child care system. If more funding isn’t allocated, there will be serious implications for children, parents and child care workers, the speakers explained. But women will be affected the most. They are leaving the workforce at four times the rate of men during the crisis, White said.

Child care workers are underpaid and undervalued. Over 90% of child care workers are women – and predominantly women of color and immigrants. Child care workers are also paid low wages: an average of $11.65 per hour and $24,230 annually, Smith said.

Child care is a pillar of the American economy, and the increasing lack of child care services has a ripple effect to other industries. Many essential workers – such as doctors and grocery clerks – rely on the child care system so they can do their own jobs. Research also shows child care programs help low-income families increase their earnings and maintain more stable employment, Matthews said.

This program is funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Heising-Simons Foundation. NPF is solely responsible for the content.


Catherine White
Director of child care and early learning, National Women’s Law Center
Linda Smith
Director, Early Childhood Initiative, Bipartisan Policy Center
Hannah Matthews
Deputy executive director for policy, The Center for Law and Social Policy
Q&A: American’s Child Care System in Crisis
Catherine White on Child Care
Linda Smith on Child Care
Hannah Matthews on Child Care
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