With a lack of societal and government support during the pandemic, women are having to make some tough decisions. In the U.S., more than 2.3 million women have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic as shown in research done by The Women’s National Law Center. The women’s labor force participation rate is 57 percent, a percentage we haven’t seen this low since 1988. 

The lack of affordable and flexible childcare options has resulted in a number of women being forced to leave the workforce over this past year. In a society where childcare was already financially bound, the pandemic has resulted in an uprooting of our industry, leaving the livelihood of women in its path of destruction. These impacts of the pandemic on the women’s workforce magnify the ongoing challenge women face as a result of the lack of policies that enable women to balance caregiving and work. 

It has become blindly evident over the last year that there is relatively little social, workplace or government support for parents and their children, especially for our youngest children. The type of support most parents rely on, that of family, friends and community, has been cut off due to lockdowns. In addition to having loved ones care for children, families also seek out childcare services. Since last March, it is estimated that more than 4 million childcare slots will have been permanently lost across the U.S. We need to prioritize supporting women and mothers by supporting childcare for children from birth to age 12.

Historically, we’ve done it before. To get women in the workforce during World War II, childcare was supported, prioritizing childcare as a matter of national security. These efforts were temporary, but the need for federally supported childcare services remains and is more important than ever.

Recent state and federal efforts have been of help but need to continue, post pandemic. With almost 3 million children (about the population of Arkansas) under the age of 5, our state is looking to receive $3.8 billion in federal relief. Additionally, the same federal bill temporarily raises the child tax credit, from $2,000 to as much as $3,600 per child a year. With plans to pay out monthly to qualifying parents, some families could see an extra $200-$300 a month, which would meaningfully help many families across the country. In California, where the cost of living is high, this added tax credit will be of help, but not a major impact for many families.  

Although these efforts are a step in the right direction, we must continue to thoughtfully support the childcare industry through consistent funding and support from local, state and federal governments. Any fund and support provided to strengthen the childcare industry directly benefits working mothers and families. Childcare is an essential service and that investment for women in the workforce must be seen as an ongoing priority.

Eva Schulte is chief operating officer of Catalyst Family Inc., a Morgan Hill-based non-profit that operates care centers in more than 40 school districts throughout the state.

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