It has been reported widely that COVID will exacerbate inequality for women across the nation, and likely, around the world. The main culprit? A lack of access to child care.
Women in Oregon are generally more likely to stay home with their children. According to 2019 data from the Oregon Employment Department and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for parents of children under six years old, 92.4% of males participate in the labor force, higher than the 67.6% for females. For parents with children ages six to 17, the gap between male and female parents in the work force is reduced, but still persists: 92% for men and 76.8% for women.
However, Oregon has a significant problem with child care, and many places in the state are considered child care deserts, meaning the areas don’t have enough child care slots for the number of children present in the community. More specifically, a community considered a child care desert has more than three children for every regulated slot, according to a study done by researchers at the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
Here in Benton County
In Benton County specifically, 19% of children aged birth to two have access to a child care slot and 42% of children aged three to five have access to a slot. This means that for all children aged birth to five, only 31% have a spot in the child care system. A county is considered a child care desert if fewer than 33% of the children in the area have access to child care.
Child Care Deserts Meet COVID-19
COVID has exacerbated the child care problem, causing local day cares to halt their services or even shut down completely. Nationally, according to the Center for American Progress article “How COVID-19 Sent Women’s Workforce Progress Backward” by Julie Kashen, 4.5 million child care slots could be lost permanently because of coronavirus.
And due to the pandemic, schools have had to switch to partial or full remote learning. Locally, the Corvallis School District has had to adapt to distance learning, like many other schools across the country. With no one to care for their children, some parents have had to start staying home rather than going to work. This added responsibility often falls onto the shoulders of women – forcing them to be mothers and teachers, and often still employees.
In September of 2020, according to Kashen, four times as many women as men left the labor force – about 865,000 women left their jobs, while 216,000 men left.
A Washington Post article titled “Coronavirus child care crisis will set women back a generation” by Alicia Sasser Modestino reported than one in four unemployed women during the pandemic cited a lack of access to child care as their reason for leaving work. This is twice the rate among men.
All of this means fewer women in the workforce and fewer women earning money. The Center for American Progress estimates that this loss of mothers in the workforce will result in “$64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.”
Modestino, for the Post article, wrote, “If Congress does not act now, it is likely that there will be little left of the child-care system when the economic recovery is fully underway — and the consequences could set women back a generation.”
Though Nov. 2020 data shows Corvallis’ unemployment rate was 3.8 percent, there is not yet data about who has left the workforce in Corvallis and why. In a county considered a child care desert, however, it’s likely that the city will feel the loss of mothers in the local economy – the question that can’t yet be answered is: just how much will Corvallis feel the loss, and what will it mean?
By Cara Nixon