Modestino Discusses Urgent Need to Address COVID-19 Childcare Crisis

Alicia Sasser Modestino, a professor of public policy and economics at Northeastern University, joined the Boston College workplace roundtable on Tuesday to share her findings regarding the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on working parents, arguing the necessity of addressing the childcare crisis.

“We had a child care crisis before we even entered the pandemic with the lack of available and affordable child care,” Modestino said. “Now it has really become a child care emergency.”

Modestino, who is also the associate director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, explained that the decision of many schools to teach remotely this year has put a significant strain on working parents. She said that schools act as the primary agent of childcare for most working families with children under 14, and that the pandemic has made it even more difficult than it has been in the past for parents to find affordable child care.

“Child care is a critical piece of economic infrastructure,” Modestino said. “The obstacles that child care imposes on workers during the pandemic are widespread.” 

Modestino also said that the pandemic has raised concerns about the long-term viability of the child care industry in its current state. She presented the results of a national survey of childcare providers conducted in July, which reported that up to 40 percent of these programs could shut down without government assistance. 

Modestino then shifted to a discussion of gender inequity within working families. She highlighted data that she collected as part of a survey conducted between May and June, which indicates that women have had to take on the brunt of child care during the pandemic. 

“The women had significant increases in the time they were spending on school work for children, playing with children, cooking, cleaning,” Modestino said. “Men on the other hand did not see as many increases in terms of what they were doing for child care.”

Modestino also reported that both mothers and fathers have experienced higher levels of stress and depression since the start of the pandemic. For mothers, this stress is driven mostly by parenting, whereas for fathers it is driven more so by job concerns.

“Men were really concerned with taking time away from the hours that they worked and were really worried about how this was going to affect their bottom line,” Modestino said. 

Despite the situation looking quite bleak, Modestino was able to highlight some positives that have come out of the pandemic. Many employers have increased flexibility and sought solutions to alleviate the stress of child care for their employees. For instance, large companies such as Apple and Amazon have offered paid leave and flexible hours for employees. In addition, companies have adapted to new circumstances as they have become more conscious of their employees.

“One of the benefits of the pandemic has been more rapid and decentralized decision making,” Modestino said. “Employers are empowering their employees to make decisions.”

Overall, Modestino’s message is simple.

“Simply, a full economic recovery is not possible without addressing the childcare crisis,” she said.

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri

October 4, 2020