New Household Pulse Survey data from the Census Bureau indicates that many families with children are still struggling to obtain consistent childcare. Notably, over 1 in 6 respondents with kids under 5 years old reported disruptions because of the pandemic. Some were forced to take time away from their jobs. Others had to leave work permanently or were fired.

The major job impacts to respondents with kids under 5 and breaks in their normal childcare routine can be seen below. People were able to check off multiple options.

Around 28 percent said that an adult in their household was required to cut their work hours, 24 percent needed to supervise children while working, and 22 percent reported taking unpaid leave. Over 20 percent used vacation, sick days, or other paid leave to care for their child. Meanwhile, 19 percent of respondents with a loss of childcare said an adult in their household was unable to look for work as a result and 20 percent reported someone leaving a job. Around 7 percent actually lost a job due to the time away.

Collectively, 17 percent of all respondents with kids under 5 experienced childcare disruptions along with their household suffering one of the listed work adjustments in the previous month. 

This monthly rate is nearly two times higher than the annual rate seen prior to the pandemic, according to the 2018-2019 National Survey of Children’s Health, when parents were asked: “During the past 12 months, did you or anyone in the family have to quit a job, not take a job, or greatly change your job because of problems with child care for this child, age 0-5 years?”

Childcare interruptions remain an influential bottleneck on the country’s economic recovery until COVID-19 conditions change.

The Resulting Income Problem

In many cases, these work limitations hurt parents’ incomes. That can make it difficult to cover essential payments, especially for workers without the ability to take paid leave. As federal unemployment benefits are set to expire on Labor Day, financial burdens on parents with inconsistent childcare may get even worse.

Relative to all parents with kids under 5, those that experienced a recent break in childcare reported using unemployment benefits, SNAP and EBT funds, money borrowed from friends or family, stimulus payments, and savings or sold assets at higher frequencies to meet spending needs. They also used regular income sources less frequently, which should be expected from forced work reductions.

Perhaps most striking is the reported frequency that child tax credit funds were utilized.  While 28 percent of all parents with kids under 5 used the CTC to meet spending needs, 42 percent of those with childcare disruptions used the CTC cash to make essential payments. Besides regular income, the CTC was the most widely used source of funds, helping these families through a period with significant disturbances to available childcare.

Policymakers in Congress should take note. As their reconciliation bill moves forward, Democrats have an opportunity to establish durable programs that provide financial security to millions of people and for families with kids in particular. Making the CTC expansion permanent and implementing a federal paid leave program are key to a continued recovery as well as long-needed additions to American life.