Lack of child care prevents many mothers from returning to work

As we celebrate Mother's Day on Sunday, consider this: many moms are among the hardest hit during the pandemic, losing their jobs and not being able to find child care to be able to return to work.  


The pandemic caused female workforce participation to drop to 57%. That's the lowest level since 1988, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

For women who have continued to work or keep their businesses running, the pandemic has meant big changes.

"We have kids ranging from almost 18, 18 in two weeks, all the way down to 3, plus I'm pregnant," said mom and entrepreneur JeNae Clark Johnson.


With a husband and four kids at home during the pandemic, Johnson says the keyword was 'pivot.' Such as inviting professionals she knew to engage her kids in learning virtually.  

"It was funny. We had doctors and lawyers and engineers volunteer to teach our kids for an hour," she said.  

To keep business rolling for her consulting company, CTM Unlimited, she shifted its focus to job culture.  

"I had to shift the structure of the company and look at how do we serve clients in a different way. What's the need?" said Johnson. 

And she kept all of this going while trying to find an open daycare center.

"We were looking and it was difficult to find. We looked at home daycares, other daycares in our neighborhood," she said.

Many child care centers went out of business during the pandemic. The challenge of finding one with spots open is one reason Rice University Economist Dr. Joyce Beebe says many mothers are delaying returning to work.

"If your gap in the labor force is longer and longer, you risk losing the opportunity, of losing your job skills. And maybe your job knowledge is deteriorating, not being polished as much," said Beebe.  

Texas Health and Human Services report child care centers in the state have dropped from 17,279 in February 2020, to 14,493 this year. The Center for American Progress finds child care center costs spiked 47%.

Beebe says those are factors in many mothers' job decisions.  

"Will I be able to go back to the same employment level, a similar job? I will have a job, but could I be underemployed?" explained Beebe.

Johnson says when hiring, employers should consider all that women have had to manage at home during the pandemic.  

"We are natural problem solvers. Because as wives and mothers, we've had to be that. We've had to just come up with solutions, so I believe those skills are very transferrable," said Johnson.  

Some relief is on the way. The Texas Workforce Commission just announced it is making $775 million dollars in federal aid available to child care centers.