On July 4th, residents of Washington who file jobless claims will again have to actively seek jobs in order to receive payments. This requirement was suspended at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and it is hoped that its reinstatement will help alleviate labor shortages across the state.
While the provision could help create an incentive to return to work, a full post-pandemic economic recovery depends on adequate and affordable childcare. The American childcare system has long been chaotic, and the pandemic has exacerbated its shortcomings.
As Elliot Haspel of the Robins Foundation of Virginia recently wrote for the Washington Post: “There is only one solution: public investment. Childcare programs do not follow the classic rules of supply and demand; many experts consider the industry to be a failed market. The parents are already tapped, but the obscene prices they pay are nowhere near the actual care costs in such a labor-intensive company. Only programs that serve the wealthiest can reasonably ask for more to raise wages. “
Most childcare facilities are not geared towards the wealthy. The industry is needed most by low- and middle-paid people, single parents, and families who need two paychecks to cover their bills. According to the Ministry of Education, around 90 percent of families with two employees use some form of childcare. As in many sectors of the economy, childcare is faced with a labor shortage – and this affects all other sectors as many parents are kept out of the workforce.
In the first few months of the pandemic, around 360,000 childcare centers disappeared last year. Many facilities are closed and many that are still open are having difficulty attracting workers; There are 3,363 childcare workers in the greater Portland area who earn an average of $ 14.59 an hour, according to Washington’s Employment Security Department.
All of this could have been avoided. In 1971, Congress passed a bill that would have created universal, state-sponsored childcare. President Richard Nixon vetoed the law, saying it had “family debilitating effects.” Instead, the lack of solid childcare has weakened families by hurting economic prospects for millions of Americans.
To deal with the crisis, Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash. Introduced the Childcare Act for Working Families, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Introduced the Universal Childcare and Early Education Act.
Murray said, “As we work to build a stronger, fairer economy, we must recognize that investing in childcare is essential … Our legislation will ensure that every working family receives quality, affordable childcare, and that our childcare educators will paid what they deserve. “
Some would argue that childcare educators deserve to be paid whatever the market has to offer. However, it ignores the fact that childcare is an investment that will stimulate the economy and give workers more freedom to find and fill jobs.
The American Families Plan proposed by President Joe Biden involves huge expenditures to support and build childcare facilities, as well as increased tax credits for families with children. And Governor Jay Inslee signed the Fair Start for Kids Act this year (Senate Law 5237 was endorsed by the Democrats in southwest Washington and rejected by the Republicans) to improve access to childcare.
However, it will take years for legislative solutions to impact the market. In the meantime, Washington employers could face long-term labor shortages hampering post-pandemic recovery.
The Columbian is a family-owned newspaper based in Vancouver, Washington.