Many women returning to work post-pandemic face child care challenges

CHARLOTTE — Many women are facing a unique challenge as they return to the workplace after nearly three years.

When the world shut down in 2020, thousands of women -- especially mothers -- were forced to leave their jobs to take care of their children. Now, as they go back to the office, they’re struggling to find child care.

Channel 9′s Evan Donovan started looking into the issue and found out what the need looks like here in the Carolinas, as well as the help available for families.

That lack of availability affects men and women, but moms are bearing the brunt of the problem as they are still most often the primary caretakers. Some local women are trying to change this so more workplaces can adapt to the needs of working parents.

When the pandemic ended child care for her 11-month-old, Diana Carter quickly realized that working from home wasn’t working.

“I needed the flexibility to be able to care for my son. However, like most American families, I needed to work,” Carter said.

So she quit her job and turned some freelancing on the side into a marketing business in Fort Mill. Business boomed, and a year later, she landed her biggest client --former ABC News anchor Paula Faris. Faris actually wrote a book and founded a company aimed at changing the way companies treat working moms.

“When we have children, we’re passed over on promotions,” Faris said. “We’re deemed a risk and a liability.”

But Faris said the real risk is losing moms altogether. A Kaiser Foundation study found 47% of working moms who quit their jobs did so because their child’s school or daycare closed.

Federal data show we’re still 80,000 childcare workers short of pre-pandemic levels.

Janet Singerman is the president of Child Care Resources Inc., a private, not-for-profit group that helps local parents find and pay for child care.

“Child care is a necessity, and not everyone has a family member that they can turn to,” Singerman said.

The two big problems she sees are availability and affordability.

In the 28269 zip code in north Charlotte, there are 2.6 kids under 6 years old for every available spot in child care. Not all of those children will need a day care spot -- Some of those families will have relatives that they prefer, or some of those families will work split shifts.

It’s an even bigger challenge in rural areas. In the 28147 zip code in Rowan County, there are more than 10 young kids per child care spot.

“Child care has to be located in the right location, you have to have a critical mass of families in order to draw enough families for a child care program to be financially viable,” Singerman said. “And the more rural you get in a population, the more difficult that becomes for families.”

As for the price -- in north Charlotte’s 28206 zip code, the average cost of child care is nearly 30% of the median household income.

“Operating costs have increased for child care programs because all costs have increased, right. So affordability remains a huge concern,” Singerman said. “Child care is a inadequately financed system.”

Faris wants to see businesses step up to fill the gap. She suggests they offer flex scheduling and child care stipends, pay for summer camps, and that men walk the walk, too. She encourages dads -- especially those in leadership positions -- to take all their paternity leave.

Three years after the pandemic, Carter’s business now employs half a dozen contractors who are all women -- and mostly moms. At the same time, she’s also preparing to become a mom again.

“When you take care of parents, when you take care of moms, you allow families to flourish,” Carter said.

If you need help finding child care in our area, Child Care Resources Inc. has a lot of helpful resources. They can help you narrow down what you’re looking for and, for parents who need it, they have funding to help pay for the cost.

For wage gap data about women in the workforce, click here.

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Evan Donovan

Evan Donovan, wsoctv.com

Evan is an anchor and reporter for Channel 9.

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