Silicon Valley day care closures sideline working mothers
Yolanda Valadez enjoys working with children and looks forward to opening her own day care. She lost her job working in child care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    A lack of affordable day care drove women out of the workforce when COVID-19 hit. Now they are stranded and can’t get back in.

    About 2 million women dropped out of the workforce in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic, compared to 1.6 million men, according to an economic study by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, which focuses on economic and policy issues.

    “The disproportionately large number of women leaving the workforce reflects how the disruption to daycare centers, schools, and other unmet and unpaid family care needs caused by the pandemic has had a particularly acute impact on working women,” the institute reported.

    During the pandemic, more than 300 day care centers closed in Santa Clara County, due to “unprecedented economic pressures” cause by COVID, said Sarah Foy, spokesperson for the Santa Clara County Office of Education. The high cost of child care has become an additional barrier to re-entering the workforce, especially for low-income families.

    Infant care averages $20,000 a year, according to FIRST 5 Santa Clara County. From March 2020 to September 2021, the organization awarded $5.28 million in stabilization funding to 528 child care providers. A FIRST 5 official previously said the organization partnered with San Jose to provide $11 million in child care scholarships to low-income families with children under age five.

    Subsidized to survive

    Day cares that offer subsidized child care have seen their low-income waitlists increase and market rate clients decline, as is the case for child development and preschool center California Young World. During the pandemic, the center’s market rate clients decreased from 30% to 10%, according to Executive Director Cathy Boettcher. Her business serves 300 families at three sites in Sunnyvale with 46 workers.

    “We’ve been lucky to have enough subsidized dollars that we have survived,” she told San José Spotlight. “I know many family child care providers and centers had to close because they rely solely on that full cost market. They just can’t make it. We hear all the time about centers that are closing.”

    The subsidized option provides low-income families with 32 hours of child care per week, Boettcher said, and makes up about 80% of her current business. Since 2019, Boettcher’s charged $1,950 per month for infants, $1,360 for preschoolers, $1,500 for toddlers not potty trained and $700 for before and after school care for K-5 children—in summer, a full day is $1,050.

    “Those rates are really low,” she said. “I haven’t had the heart and we haven’t had the parents to increase them during COVID.”

    But in July, infant care will increase to $2,400 a month, which she said is closer to its actual cost of $3,000. Boettcher sympathizes. She said $28,800 a year is a substantial cost for a young family, equal to a house payment.

    Staffing is a large part of the cost. The state requires a subsidized day care facility to have a certain ratio of workers to children, as well as professionals with early childhood education and a master teacher with a degree.

    Another problem is a shortage of workers. People have left the area or the field, Boettcher said. If she could hire six more people, she could enroll 50 more children, helping women get back to the workplace.

    “We really do rely on child care for economics and women being able to work,” she said. “Even child care agencies are having difficulty hiring.”

    One San Jose nonprofit is working to bring women back to the workplace while also solving the lack of child care. Grail Family Services, which promotes children’s success and well-being, offers training in operating a child care business as part of its Jobs to Grow program. Twenty-three individuals recently graduated. It also provides free child care for those taking classes.

    “We want to create centers where it’s low cost for families, allowing parents to continue working, and at the same time empowering the women who are running the day care centers,” said Rosie Lopez, an early care and education manager with Grail Family Services.

    Yolanda Valadez, a graduate of the training program, is starting her own day care business. She previously worked at a day care center, but was laid off during the pandemic. She’s making ends meet by caring for a friend’s children.

    “Bills come every month and they don’t wait for you,” she told San José Spotlight. “It was difficult.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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