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Pandemic Worsens Options for Parents Living in ‘Child-Care Deserts’

Moms now are the equal, primary, or sole household income earners in 40% of U.S. families. (Adobe Stock)
Moms now are the equal, primary, or sole household income earners in 40% of U.S. families. (Adobe Stock)
September 22, 2020

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Across the state, child care centers are struggling to stay open, and it's unclear how many will shut their doors for good. Early federal data shows working moms are the most likely to be affected.

Shannon Starkey-Taylor is CEO of Learning Grove, a network of child care centers in Northern Kentucky. She said even with federal relief, her center is losing $8,000 per classroom per month.

She said parents who don't have flexible jobs or who are essential workers rely on child care centers to stay employed and provide for their families. And she worries what will happen when communities lose those centers.

"And that's on top of quality deserts; so there's areas in Kentucky and all over the nation where there's not enough high-quality child care," Starkey-Taylor said. "So if you layer that with the 30-40% of child care programs that are not going to reopen at all, that is a huge concern."

Even before the pandemic, more than 50% of all Kentuckians lived in a child care desert. One statewide survey found Kentucky can expect around 15% of its child care centers to permanently close.

According to federal data, women are now dropping out of the workforce at higher rates than other groups, and more than 1 million women have left their jobs since the pandemic began.

Taylor said she's seen firsthand how lack of access to child care leaves women with few options.

"And we're particularly worried about single head of household, and women in general, whether this will kind of put us back in time, quite frankly, at a time where women were having to leave the workforce to care for their children more," she said.

She believes reducing class sizes and ramping up health and safety protocols is the best way to help working parents. And she added federal funding for child care should be a top priority for lawmakers.

"This is not us being melodramatic. There are child care centers that are closing and that desperately need this relief. We don't make a margin on child care," she said. "And as a nation, we just need as many child care programs to stay open to have a healthy economy and to have children that are ready to learn."

Advocates say a $50 billion investment in National Child Care Development Block Grant funding could help centers and families weather the pandemic, and would bring around $958 million in child care funding to Kentucky.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY