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Survey Results: How Work and Child Care are Changing

The pandemic forced many families to adapt to new work environments and structures, highlighting the flexibility of many workplaces. At the same time, it uprooted an already unstable child care system and disrupted the care many parents rely on no matter where they work from, underscoring the fragility of the system in adapting to change. As we enter the recovery phase, it will be important to understand how work settings are changing and the impact that has on child care demands, especially in the wake of a pandemic that will have a continued impact on the future of work.

In May of 2021, BPC and Morning Consult conducted a survey of 800 households with children under the age of 5 where all caregivers were employed. This is part of a series of surveys to better understand parents’ child care needs and preferences. This latest survey focused on how child care arrangements may change as parents return to work. Below are some key take-aways from the survey.

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For Many, Remote Work is Here to Stay

Understanding the future of work and how parents and employers will navigate remote work options post-pandemic could have major implications for how parents make choices about their child care. This survey asked parents about their current and preferred work arrangements moving forward to measure what this could look like.

  • A majority (58%) of parents are currently able to work at least a portion of their week remotely, and most are taking advantage of this: just 15% of parents say they are working onsite or in the office full-time while 81% of parents who can work remotely are remote at least some of the time.
  • Q: Does your employer currently allow you to work any portion of the work week remotely?
  • Looking ahead, 60% of parents say they want to work remotely at least part of the week, including 29% who wish to work remotely full-time. Parents are also most likely to prefer the work situation that they are currently in.
  • Complicating child care needs, more than one-quarter (29%) of parents report they are made aware of their work schedules no more than 2 weeks in advance. Black parents, parents with low educational attainment, and those who earn less than $50,000 are more likely to be made aware of their work schedule no more than 2 weeks ahead of time.

Child Care and School Situations Remain Fluid

In-line with our previous surveys, we asked parents to report on the status of their child’s current learning situation. One in ten parents reported their child care provider had closed permanently, largely unchanged from our last survey conducted in December 2020, in which 11% of parents said the same. While this survey is not longitudinal, the equivalent findings strongly indicate as many as one in ten child care programs have permanently closed due to the pandemic.

  • Currently, 29% of parents report the child care arrangement they had at the start of the pandemic was open without any changes to hours or capacity.
    • 15% report their provider is still temporarily closed.
    • 19% of programs are open with limited hours, and 16% are open with limited spaces.
  • 38% of parents report their local public schools will be providing entirely in-person schooling, while 42% report there will be some level of online learning.

Accessing and Affording Child Care Continues to Impact Labor Force Participation

The challenges parents faced accessing reliable child care identified in our pre-pandemic survey continues to impact parents’ ability to work, a reality exacerbated for parents at lower income levels. Affordability remains a significant challenge for parents, many of whom cannot afford more than $200 per week on child care, considerably less than the cost of child care in many areas.

Impact on Work

  • 57% of parents said child care responsibilities had impacted their ability to work over the last month—including almost one in four (22%) who said it often or always impacted their work.
    • Three-quarters (73%) of these parents said they have missed over 8 hours, or one full day, over the last month due to child care responsibilities.
    • Lower-income parents lost more work, on average, than higher-income families.
    • Nearly half (45%) of parents who need child care during non-traditional hours missed over 9 hours of work.

Affordability

  • Half (47%) of parents say the maximum amount they can afford to pay for child care each week is less than $200.
    • 60% of parents with incomes under $50,000 answered this way, including almost a quarter (22%) who said they could not afford more than $50 each week.
    • Service and trade workers were also more likely (67%) to say this was their maximum amount.
    • This finding largely tracks with our December 2020 survey, in which two-thirds of parents (67%) reported the maximum amount they could pay was $200.
  • Nearly half (42%) of parents say they have received a federal tax credit for their child care expenses. Among parents that have not received federal credit for their child care expenses, nearly one-quarter (24%) say it is because they were not aware that they could.
  • Q: Have you ever received a federal tax credit for your child care expenses?
  • Around half of parents (48%) were unaware that they could that they can claim more of their child care expenses on their 2021 taxes.
  • Parents are divided on whether they would most prefer to receive financial support for their child care expenses via tax refunds (39%) or both government subsidies and tax refunds (39%).

Child Care Needs and Nontraditional Hours of Care

The survey results indicate that the hours parents need child care are dictated by the hours a parent works, and that many parents need care during non-traditional hours. Minority families and those working in specific professions are more likely to need care during nontraditional hours. Household income levels appear to have more of an impact on the type of care parents use.

  • Over a quarter of parents (29%) need child care outside of traditional 8am – 6pm work hours, half of whom (49%) need care in the evening from 6pm-8pm.
  • 44% of health care professionals need child care outside of traditional work hours, as do 31% of service, retail, or sales workers.
  • Parents are most often reliant on relatives to care for their children, both during traditional and non-traditional work hours (27% across both work times).
    • Lower income families are more likely to rely on relatives to provide care during nontraditional hours (41%)
    • Women, parents of color, and those living in suburban areas are also more likely to rely on relatives to provide care during traditional hours.
  • Parents are more likely to use a child care center during the traditional work day than during nontraditional work hours (23% vs. 11%, respectively)
  • Parents rely on family child care providers at similar rates (12% during the work day, 11% during nontraditional hours).

Ideal Child Care and Early Learning Preferences

Parents are the experts on what would work best for their families. With multiple policies being proposed at the federal level with the intention of better supporting parents, we asked parents to weigh in on what child care and early learning arrangements they thought would be best for their families, and what types of policies they might support.

Child Care

  • If child care were free for their family, a plurality of parents (30%) say that they would prefer the child care arrangement they currently use.
  • If child care were free for their family, a plurality of parents (30%) would choose a center-based program.
    • The preference for center-based care holds true whether families are working traditional (34%) and non-traditional (31%) hours.

Pre-K

  • A majority (71%) of parents say if free Pre-K were available to their family during the typical school day, they would choose to send their child. At the same time, three quarters of parents (73%) say that if public Pre-K were co-located in a child care program that offered longer hours of care, it would be a better option for their family.

Public Opinion Strongly Favors Supporting Families

  • A strong majority of parents agree with the following statements:
    • Working parents deserve access to high quality child care (92%)
    • Expanding government support would be beneficial for parents and children (88%).
      • 96% of liberals and 88% of conservatives agree working parents deserve access to high-quality child care.
      • 95% of liberals and 79% of conservatives agree that expanding government support would be beneficial for parents and children.
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