The COVID-19 pandemic has lead to the loss of up to 15,600 child care spots in Allegheny County, and could push parents of young children out of the workforce if those losses become permanent, according to a new report.
The pandemic exacerbated what was already a problematic system, according to the report by Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Fourth Economy.
“Quality child care is not only good for kids and families—it is also critical for the economy to function. Even before COVID, the system was broken, with complicated, unsustainable funding models and inequity. COVID has exacerbated these cracks, worsening inequality, forcing workers out of the labor force, and threatening the sector as a whole,” the study found.
Without large amounts of public funding, child care is already costly for many families, but also often pays child care workers low wages.
The region was already lacking about 8,640 licensed child care spots for kids under the age of five before the COVID crisis, according to the study’s findings.
Some child care spots have been lost temporarily as child care providers decrease their capacity in order to follow safety protocols, and as some parents remain reluctant to have their children in group settings. Other centers are using some of their capacity to serve school-age children engaged in remote learning while their elementary school buildings remain closed.
These changes have left the county short about 15,600 child care spots compared to prior to the pandemic, and could force thousands of parents out of the work force if the losses become permanent.
“I think that, what the study tells us, in numbers, is the interconnectedness between an economy recovering, and our child care sector,” said Cara Ciminillo, executive director of early childhood advocacy organization Trying Together.
Now, some providers could close permanently due to a loss of funding, the report predicts, particularly as federal and state assistance comes to an end.
The report says the resulting workforce shifts could impact the retail, health care, education, agriculture, and arts sectors.
“The implications long term are very scary,” said Megan Nestor, who conducted the research for Fourth Economy.
To aid child care centers, the report suggests additional federal CARES funds and longer-term, employer supports and/ or subsidies for care.
“High quality and accessible childcare is a critical and necessary resource for our region’s economy to reopen in a sustainable and robust manner. We continue to work with all levels of government, but immediate funding from the state and federal levels will be critical not only to support our workforce, but to support the childcare system at this time. Employers and employees in our region both need child care to fully operate,” Matt Smith, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
“We have a sector that’s tied to the economy recovering, and it’s sitting on unstable grounds. And that’s really the worry that we have going forward,” Ciminello said.
The report was funded with support from the Heinz Endowments.