Microsoft campus. (Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images)
There was a child care crisis in Washington long before COVID-19 existed — but the pandemic has put the day care industry in even more peril, and created more stress for working parents.
Care centers are facing massive losses in revenue as many parents are afraid to have their kids in day care during the pandemic, or due to social distancing orders that limit how many kids a facility can accommodate at a time. That means day care centers are closing — to the tune of hundreds in King County — or are forced to raise prices.
Raising prices is tough in an industry that’s already incredibly difficult for many parents to afford, especially at a time when families are dealing with the economic impacts of a recession. But without increasing fees, it’s hard to make up for lost revenue in an industry with a very small profit revenue.
However, in the tech world at least, changes are being made to help parents, as Geekwire Managing Editor Taylor Soper recently reported.
What struggles of child care centers could mean for Washington parents
“Literally last week, Amazon said that they will offer temporary backup child care to 650,000 U.S. employees,” Soper said.
Microsoft already subsidizes child care for employees, and with the coronavirus pandemic has now offered parents up to 12 weeks of additional paid leave to take care of children home from school.
As Soper pointed out, the wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, has stated that the pandemic’s child care challenges could lead women to disproportionately leave the workforce and become full-time stay-at-home moms.
Soper sees these tech giants as stepping in and taking a role that, in other countries, might belong to government.
“The government — depending on who you talk to — is lacking in terms of what they can offer to families, in terms of family leave and laws like that,” he said. “So, can companies make a difference?”
Soper also reported that smaller tech companies, such as Seattle startups Weekdays and Leg Up, are dedicated to providing a sort of online dating service to match families with child care providers. After a parent fills out what they’re seeking in a care provider, the free service shows them local day care centers or other options that would best fit their needs.
Even for parents who choose to forgo day care or other forms of child care, however, there may be some helpful societal shifts to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soper believes the months-long quarantine period of COVID has forever transformed the idea of working from home, normalizing it to the point where many companies will offer it at as an option at least part of the time. This increased flexibility can help working parents avoid the cost of day care in the future.
“We’re going to see a big shift with work-from-home guidelines,” he said. “I can see a lot of companies moving to a flexible, hybrid schedule … that would probably help out parents a lot.”