Expanded childcare key to returning Pa. women to post-pandemic workforce | Thursday Morning Coffee

‘Child care is a persistent, ongoing problem that needs our immediate attention if our economic recovery is to continue,’ one advocate said

October 21, 2021 7:11 am

(Source: United Way of Pennsylvania, United Way of Bucks County, and ReadyNation )

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

During an appearance in his childhood home of Scranton on Wednesday, President Joe Biden made the case for congressional approval of his nearly $2 trillion dollar ‘Build Back Better’ agenda, which is currently in the midst of a tug-of-war between progressive and moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Biden put a particular spotlight on $350 billion for child care subsidies and free pre-kindergarten that the spending plan would underwrite, as he reflected on his own experience as a single father who had the help of his family after his wife and daughter died in a car crash in the 1970s.

A new report released this week underlines the challenges the pandemic economy posed for American women, millions of whom dropped out of the workforce as the economy went into recession, and families nationwide found themselves scrambling to find childcare.

During the first quarter of 2021, female participation in the labor force dipped to its lowest point since 1988, according to the report, jointly released by the United Way of Pennsylvania, the United Way of Bucks County, and the advocacy group, ReadyNation

It concludes that the swiftest way to return those women to the workforce is for policymakers to “stabilize and strengthen the child care system to help women return to and remain in the workforce.”

The report paints a vivid and disturbing picture of the pandemic’s impact on working women in Pennsylvania, finding, among other things, that:

  • “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,” and that
  • “Female workforce participation is not expected to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels until late 2024.”

“Among women, certain subgroups were particularly impacted, including women of color, those with lower levels of education, and those in low-wage jobs,” the report found. Women also comprised two-thirds of the essential workforce in Pennsylvania, and were “key to providing vital infrastructure services and helping to keep the economy running during the pandemic.

“The pandemic also hit mothers especially hard, with approximately one million mothers leaving the workforce nationwide, compared to half that number of fathers,” the document concluded. “Mothers without partners had the sharpest drop in employment among parents. In one survey, 82 percent of mothers leaving the workforce reported that they could not afford to do so.”

(Source: Center for American Progress/Council for a Strong America)

Families who were already struggling to seek childcare during the pandemic have seen that search complicated by a staffing crisis within the childcare industry, the report found.

In Pennsylvania, 86 percent of child care providers closed at some point during the pandemic, and at least 850 have closed permanently, the report found. A further 350 providers have remained temporarily shuttered since March 2020. And while 600 new providers have opened during that same time period, they have been run at a reduced capacity, limiting access to care, the report found.

“Employees’ struggles with child care during the pandemic have certainly impacted the operations of many businesses,” Jeane Vidoni, the president and CEO of Penn Community Bank said during a forum on the report earlier this week. “In fact, a survey by the [Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry] 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.”

Child care insecurity can increase stress and anxiety and decrease quality of life (image via
Damir Cudic/E+ Collection via Getty Images/The Conversation).

The access crisis has further been complicated by an affordability crisis as well, with the average annual cost of ‘center-based’ infant care in Pennsylvania running to about $11,560, which is close to the $14,770 average cost of public college tuition and fees, according to the report.

A lack of accessible, affordable, high-quality child care jeopardizes recruitment, retention, and productivity for businesses as well as decreases job opportunities and advancement for parents,” the report reads. “A U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study examining these child care challenges in Pennsylvania described the dire economic consequences: a combined staggering annual loss of $3.47 billion both in tax revenue and to employers’ bottom line due to employee absences and turnover. COVID-19 has likely increased these costs.”

The report calls on policymakers to expand access to affordable, quality childcare, with state officials leveraging all available federal childcare and pandemic relief funds to prop up the current system and to prevent more shutdowns.

In the long-term, the report calls for state and federal officials to “approve additional recurring investments in the child care sector to address systemic issues like low staff wages, inadequate reimbursement rates for providers participating in the subsidized child care program, and a shortage of high-quality care.”

In Pennsylvania, the Republicans who control the General Assembly banked $5 billion out of $7 billion in available federal stimulus funding that could have been used to pay for affordable childcare.

This week, the Democratic Wolf administration announced that it was spending $352 million in federal stimulus money to shore up the state’s subsidized child care program, YourErie reported.

“We cannot miss an opportunity to invest resources where they will make a positive and lasting impact on our children,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. “By targeting investments to our subsidized child care system, we are investing in equitable quality child care for all Pennsylvanians, no matter where they live or their income.”

In a statement, Marissa Christie, the president and CEO of the United Way of Bucks County, said that it’s “common knowledge that working mothers have been disproportionately impacted by COVID. It is common knowledge that filling essential jobs benefits all of us. That means it’s common sense that we come together, united, to address the child care crisis and return women to work.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.

President Joe Biden retuned to his home turf of Scranton on Wednesday, where he pitched his sprawling domestic agenda, Correspondent Patrick Abdalla reports.

Questions over whether Pennsylvania’s top health official overstepped her role and violated the law with the most recent K-12 mask mandate continued Wednesday with oral arguments in two Commonwealth Court cases challenging the universal policy, Marley Parish reports.

State agriculture officials will begin inspecting businesses in two central Pennsylvania counties next week to ensure that they are following Spotted Lanternfly mitigation protocolsCassie Miller reports.

Gun owners do not have to violate a local gun law to have legal standing to challenge its constitutionality in court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled WednesdayStephen Caruso has the story.

Kids ages 5 to 11 are next in line for COVID-19 vaccines as the White House rolls out the next phase of its pandemic plans, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson writes.

The Republican state senator leading the Pennsylvania election investigation promised a transparent process, but negotiations with potential vendors are happening behind closed doorsMarley Parish also reports.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 3,584 new cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth on Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to more than 1.5 million cases since the start of the pandemic, Cassie Miller reports.

On our Commentary Page today, opinion regular Fletcher McClellan argues that President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court reform commission is more symbol than substance. And policymakers need to keep pace with the needs of America’s rapidly aging population, opinion regular Ray E. Landis writes.

(Photo via Getty Images/Colorado Newsline.)

In Philadelphia, a community is rallying to say enough is enough to shootings near schools, the Inquirer reports.

In southwestern Pennsylvania, a new effort is putting the focus on school bus safety, the Tribune-Review reports.

In one Cumberland County district, school officials have pressed pause on a diversity initiative, as a new superintendent deals with what he says are more pressing issues, the Sentinel of Carlisle reports.

After dealing with confusing language on a ballot question that would keep English as Allentown’s official language, City Council is taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again, the Morning Call reports.

The Citizens’ Voice has its take on President Joe Biden’s visit to Scranton on Wednesday.

Even though only 1 in 10 Philadelphia police officers have reported their vaccination status, the city still isn’t imposing a mandate for copsWHYY-FM reports.

Despite a shortage of school counselors, Penn State is closing down its academic program that trains themWPSU-FM reports.

The White House’s vaccine mandate could further strain rural reports.

For some Democrats, it’s clear the path to getting voting rights passed runs through scrapping the filibusterTalking Points Memo reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Reverend Jes Kast (@revjeskast)

What Goes On
10 a.m., 333 Market St., Harrisburg: Independent Regulatory Review Commission

Gov. Tom Wolf legs it to Pittsburgh for a 1:45 p.m. news conference to roll out his plan to ‘protect workers, improve wages and quality of life in the commonwealth, and boost Pennsylvania’s growing economy.’

Heavy Rotation
Tears for Fears are back with their first single in 17 years. And if you were expecting ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World‘ redux, adjust your expectations. The comeback single, ‘The Tipping Point,’ evokes the darker, more thoughtful pop of their debut LP, ‘The Hurting.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
From the ‘Enemy of My Enemy’ file: Philadelphia beat Boston 6-3 on Wednesday night. Any night the Bruins lose is a good night — even if it means the horrible Flyers have to win.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.