Thousands of parents are spending more time with their children this season, and it’s not because of the holidays. The trifecta of sickness that includes COVID-19, the flu, and the respiratory syncytial virus is getting more and more children sent home from school and daycare, and more parents than ever are taking off work to nurse them back to health. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 parents last month missed work due to childcare struggles, even more than those who missed work in any given month over the past couple of years due to the pandemic.
Workers with flexible jobs and generous employee benefits can afford to work from home or take paid time off to care for their children. But for those who don’t have such benefits, it’s not so easy. “While 96 percent of the country’s highest paid workers received paid sick leave last year, only 40 percent of the lowest earners did, according to federal data,” the Washington Post reports.
Tennessee residents Drew Moore and his wife, Raven, said that staying home with their two little ones has cut into their combined annual income of about $30,000. With Drew working in landscaping and Raven at a restaurant, neither gets paid leave, so tending to their 2-year-old and 4-year-old is costly.
“Fall is the time to make money around here; it’s what gets us through the rest of the year,” Moore told the Washington Post. “But of course it’s also right when the kids’ sickness kicks off. I’m really scared it’s going to screw us up financially.”
But sickness isn’t the only thing causing childcare troubles and parental anxiety. Schools and daycares are also struggling to hire and retain teachers and caretakers. Like RSV, which is especially dangerous for infants and toddlers who haven’t been exposed to a normal amount of germs because of COVID paranoia, this childcare worker shortage has also gotten worse coming out of the pandemic. As of last month, the childcare sector has shrunk by 9.7% since February 2020.
In short, with children getting sick and too few people to watch them even when they’re healthy, parents are struggling to make ends meet. You can add this dilemma to the growing list of challenges that our response to the pandemic, not the pandemic itself, has turned into a crisis.