More Than One in Five Working Parents Are Unsure Whether They Will Fully Return to Work

July 27, 2020
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation today released a new report, “Piecing Together Solutions: Working Parents, Childcare, and COVID-19,” examining how working parents of children under the age of six are navigating childcare during the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has altered the work environment of nearly 90% of working parents and caused two-thirds to adjust their childcare arrangements.
 
“Childcare is a two-generation workforce issue, essential to support the workforce of today and vital to develop our workforce of tomorrow,” said Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “Thirteen million parents rely on childcare to be able to work. In the wake of the pandemic, the challenge ahead of us is how to make sure those childcare options continue to exist.” 
 
The survey found that the majority of parents feel their provisional childcare arrangement is unsustainable. More than one in five are unsure whether they will fully return to work. Sixty percent of working parents say they will need to change their arrangement within the year, and 35% will need to change within the next three months. 
 
Additional findings include:
 
  • Shift to Remote Work: Almost half of working parents are now working remotely, but this accommodation is not afforded to all groups equally. Seventy-three percent of high-income and 54% of white parents are working remotely, while only 24% of low-income parents, 40% of Black parents, and 34% of Hispanic or Latino parents are able to work remotely during the pandemic, with fewer traditional childcare options available to them.
  • More Children Staying at Home: Currently, 75% of working parents have children staying at home with a parent during work hours, compared to 52% before the COVID-19 outbreak. This increase in children staying at home mirrors the decrease of children attending childcare centers, pre-K, and licensed childcare homes. 
  • Extensive Childcare Changes: Two-thirds of parents have changed their childcare arrangement since March. When asked to identify which factors caused that change, 61% of parents indicated that their previous arrangement closed and 25% indicated that they chose not to send their children due to health and safety concerns. 
  • Largely Temporary Solutions: Parents have been forced to find alternative childcare solutions, and the majority of parents do not feel these solutions are sustainable. Sixty percent of parents will need to change their current childcare arrangement within the next year, and of those parents, more than half will need to change their arrangement within the next three months.
  • Risk of Employees Not Returning to Work: Twelve percent of working parents are unlikely to return to their same pre-pandemic work situation, with another 10% unsure whether they will return at all. The likelihood of returning to work decreases for working parents of color as well as low-income parents. 
  • Flexibility is Key: Flexible working hours and the ability to work remotely were identified as the most important employer-provided benefits for working parents. More direct support such as onsite childcare or subsidies are more important for those working at less flexible jobs.
 
As employers are considering how their workforce will return, this study quantifies how parents are being affected. Childcare has become one of the most important issues for businesses as many providers have closed their doors or offer limited availability due to COVID-19. Parents now face the dilemma of trying to find new childcare arrangements or trying to balance working from home while caring for their children.
 
These findings are the first in a series of surveys the U.S. Chamber Foundation will conduct to study the pandemic’s impact on childcare from multiple vantage points—working parents, employers, and childcare providers. New data will be released over the next several months as key decisions around re-opening the economy are made and will be accompanied by videos to tell the stories behind the numbers. To sign up for updates or to learn more about the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s work on early childhood education, visit https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/early-childhood-education.