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Childcare and Working From Home

The childcare industry in the county is on the verge of a major collapse, and this could mean millions of families will be looking for jobs that allow them to work from home. That will mean a lot of additional demand for decent broadband.

The childcare industry ran into troubles at the beginning of the pandemic, and over 20,000 childcare centers, or about 10% of the total, closed within a short time after the onset of the pandemic. At the time, this resulted in about 40,000 lost daycare jobs.

As the pandemic started to ebb, Congress provided $24 billion in subsidies to bolster salaries to keep people interested in taking the high-stress jobs of childcare. That funding is going to end this month. Several non-profits that concentrate on the sector say that the end of the subsidies will likely cause another 70,000 childcare centers to close – about one in three of the remaining centers. That will kill another 230,000 childcare jobs, but more importantly, will mean that around 2.3 million families will be confronted with some difficult childcare choices.

Many families will suddenly be without childcare because they won’t be able to find an alternative. It seems likely that without the subsidies, that the remaining childcare centers will raise rates – and, in many cases, making childcare costs too high to justify working.

Some families that lose childcare will find a more expensive alternative, but many will not. The loss of 70,000 childcare centers is going to affect most communities in the country. It might seem logical that some of the childcare workers who lose a job could start taking care of children in their own homes – but that is not practical in most communities. Most places now require all childcare facilities to be licensed, and any home or location used for childcare must meet a lot of requirements that are expensive or impossible to meet for the average home.

Childcare workers who lose their jobs can hopefully find employment somewhere in the overheated job market. But families who decide that a parent must stay at home without access to childcare are likely going to be looking for jobs that can be done at home – and probably online.

This raises all kinds of issues. Many of the families that are suddenly back in the home to take care of their own children will not be proficient with computers. Many will unfortunately live in places where the broadband is not good enough to support working from home.

I wonder if there are enough virtual jobs available to meet this new influx of workers seeking online work? There is a well-known national trend that many Gen X and Millennial workers prefer online work, and new job seekers will be competing with folks who have more computer skills and experience. We’re also starting to see some of the largest employers, including the federal government, starting to insist that workers come back to the office. This is likely going to make it even more competitive to pursue the remaining online jobs.

But there is still a vibrant work-from-home economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that 34% of workers did at least some of their work at home in 2022, down from 42% in 2020 and 38% in 2021. But those same statistics showed that getting work from home is highly correlated with the level of education – 54% of those with a bachelors degree or higher work at home some of the time compared to only 18% for those with a high school diploma or less.

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