Closing The Gap

Black parents are twice as likely to suffer setbacks at work when they can't find child care

MoMo Productions

When it comes to child care, parents are more likely to experience set backs at work if they don't have reliable providers they can count on to care for their kids. 

And according to a new study by the Center for American Progress, Black parents who have problems finding child care quit their jobs, do not take employment or change their work at a rate double that of White parents facing a lack of care. About 13.1% of Black parents say they've experienced these hardships as opposed to 7.2% of White parents. 

It's a situation that Brittany Williams, 34, a Seattle-based in-home caregiver, is very familiar with. Over the recent July Fourth holiday weekend, she couldn't go to work because her 7-year-old son's summer camp program was closed. And getting a babysitter for the weekend just wasn't an option because it's simply too expensive. 

"I do what I can and at the end of the day, even though I love my job, I tell them my child comes first," Williams, a single mother, tells CNBC Make It. 

Securing good, affordable child care has always been problematic for Williams, even though she qualified for a voucher through Seattle's child-care assistance program earlier this year. The voucher program, which is limited to those making less than 350% of the federal poverty level, pays for between 25% and 70% of a child-care provider's rate. But Williams is limited to centers within the program that are licensed with the city of Seattle. 

Prior to receiving the voucher, Williams found it nearly impossible to find care when school wasn't in session. Last summer, she wasn't able to go to work most of the time because she didn't have a voucher and couldn't find affordable child care. The times she was able to get to work, it was because friends agreed to help her out by watching her son.

But most of her friends live in Tacoma and Federal Way, Washington, about 25-30 miles outside downtown Seattle where Williams lives. She doesn't have a car, so she has to take her son by bus to stay with her friends and then back to Seattle before she can even head to her clients. "By the time I make it to where I'm going, I've spent more time on the buses than I do at work," Williams says. 

As a caregiver working for both an agency and an individual provider through the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Williams says she's able to choose clients that work around her schedule. Yet with the transportation issues and the hours her child-care programs are open, she's only able to put in about five-hour days. And while she makes $16.35 an hour (above the national median wage for caregivers of $11.52), money is still tight. 

"When parents are unable to find child care, their ability to work and provide for their family suffers," writes Cristina Novoa, author of the report and senior policy analyst for Early Childhood Policy at American Progress.

About 21.5 million workers in the U.S. have a child under the age of 6, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But due to "decades of occupational and residential segregation," American Progress finds that Black and multiracial families tend to experience more child-care hardships because they typically have less access to remote work and job flexibility. 

Additionally, finding affordable child care tends to be a bigger challenge for Black and multiracial families to access — even before the coronavirus pandemic temporarily shut down about 60% of child-care providers. Black families generally spend more than half of their income on child-care costs and many times, like Williams, have to forgo work if they work non-traditional hours when child-care centers aren't open. 

Yet the pandemic is expected to make it increasingly difficult to access care. Before summer camp started, Williams' son was attending a day-care program within a community center that also ran other programs, including providing basic hygiene services for the homeless. But when an employee in that program tested positive for Covid-19, everyone in the facility, including the families with children in the child-care program, had to quarantine for two weeks. And Williams says that meant she wasn't able to go to work and earn a paycheck.

New health restrictions put in place by her son's summer camp program have also caused issues. If children are running a fever of 100.4°F or higher, they need to stay home for three days, Williams says. And that too has caused Williams to miss work, especially since her son has allergies. "We've had a couple weeks where we did not leave the house," Williams says.

"Everything is so strict now, and I understand that and I'm grateful for it. But at the same time, it can be very restricting because landlords and bill collectors don't care — they want their money," she says. 

While the majority of states across the country are allowing child-care facilities to reopen, many providers have been slow to return because of strict capacity and operating rules that are creating financial burdens. And some may never reopen. Overall, the U.S. could lose up to 4.5 million child-care slots if providers can't weather the shutdown and reopening process, American Progress estimated earlier this year.

That, in turn, could make it even harder on Black and multiracial families. "Without immediate action to bolster child care, too many parents of color will be forced to choose between putting food on the table and providing their children with the close supervision and enrichment they need," Novoa says.

Don't miss more in this series: 

Here's how child-care facilities could reopen safely
Here's how child-care facilities could reopen safely