As death rates from COVID-19 rise, the state is beginning to open back up. And with that the expectation is that Iowans get back to work. Iowans who don’t go back to work will lose unemployment benefits, leaving thousands of workers forced to expose themselves and their families to a potentially deadly virus, which experts say could have a second wave in the fall.
The rush to reopen the state has left many questions about the health and safety of Iowans unanswered. Among those questions, “Who will watch the children?” is especially crucial.
Schools are closed for the rest of the year. The future of summer camps is uncertain. Half of the child care centers in America currently are closed. Using elderly parents for child care can be risky since grandparents are in the age bracket with the highest risk for death and complications from COVID-19.
This leaves families, mothers especially, at risk of losing their jobs and unemployment benefits.
Nationwide, women still carry the heavy burden of child care, despite the fact that most families are dual income homes. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers in America are women which puts them at risk for unemployment and illness because of exposure to the virus.
Already, the child care gap for women contributes to the wage gap. Women earn 80 cents to the male dollar. And the inequality is compounded when segmented by race.
Congress has tried to pass a paid leave policy, but those attempts have failed. And Iowa’s governor has so far not commented on the looming child care crisis as she declares victory over the virus and opens up the state.
Before the pandemic, a quarter of Iowa families lived in a child care desert, and child care in the state does not even come close to meeting the national definition of affordable. Experts estimated that the Iowa economy loses more than $1 billion each year because of a lack of child care. And with the reality of the pandemic sinking in, it will only get worse.
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The Department of Human Services received $31.9 million in aid from the federal CARES Act that was dispersed to child care centers to help care for the children of essential workers. But as more people go back to work, that aid will be spent very quickly. Leaving the children of everyone else without answers to this fundamental question. If Reynolds wants to open up the state, her team needs to formulate a comprehensive plan that addresses the lack of child care and offers paid leave and works to reopen child care centers.
But rushing to open an economy when there is no child care is an attack not just on families but specifically mothers.
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