OPINION

JUST PLAIN TALK: Pandemic highlighted shortfalls in childcare industry

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

In light of the current labor shortage, I’m reminded of a conversion with a client. Now retired, they worked for St. Joe and predicted today’s labor crunch, “Where do they think we’re going to find workers?” The pandemic will end, but COVID-19 brought to light problems that will persist.

Yes, some people are too “sorry” to work. Those who understand Southern English know what I mean. But not everyone who quits a job does it because they don’t want to work. For example, after our son was born, childcare was a huge issue. My wife wasn’t making enough to justify paying daycare, so she gave notice, similar but unlike Johnny Paycheck. Fortunately for us, one of the accounting firm’s clients got wind of her resignation and offered her a better-paying job so we could afford childcare.

Historically, America hasn’t valued childcare, but it is a critical but underappreciated part of the economy. Gross Domestic Product includes goods and services. Childcare is a service, and parents, children, and society share the benefits. America came tantalizingly close to public childcare in the '70s. A bipartisan bill passed Congress, but Nixon vetoed it.

Infrastructure includes everything a society needs to function. Human infrastructure, caring for the young, sick or elderly, is as critical as roads, bridges, and cyber-security. For example, the pandemic forced parents with school-age or younger children to change how they worked to take care of their children. If you don’t believe me, look at the numbers. Ten million women were out of the workforce at the beginning of this year. Lack of consistent childcare is one of the reasons April had disappointing unemployment numbers.

Many working parents rely on an informal network to provide care for their children. But pandemic and subsequent social isolation meant people were less inclined to interact socially. As a result, COVID-19 frayed their cobbled-together arrangements. It shouldn’t have taken a worldwide pandemic for us to realize that without reliable and affordable childcare, working parents can’t build careers or hold jobs. Maybe that will be a silver lining from the COVID’s dark cloud.

Another dilemma facing employers and workers is our area’s lack of affordable housing. Soaring demand for short-term rentals has been good for landlords but a burden for renters. Twenty years ago, entry-level workers, with a buddy or two, could find an affordable rental. But, to borrow a line from Peggy Mitchell, those days are gone with the wind. A two-hour roundtrip reduces a paycheck twenty-five percent with an eight-hour workday, excluding gas and vehicle maintenance costs.

In a former occupation, I had a small staff, so I sympathize with employers. Don’t forget December and January were the two deadliest months of the pandemic. The increased unemployment benefits were signed into law in early March. Then no one knew how effective or available vaccines would be; hindsight is 20-20. We’re still not out of the woods. Given COVID-19 variants, vaccine hesitancy could mean a resurgence in cases.

You can't always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP, can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit livingstonfinancial.net or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.