There was a good article in Axios @Work yesterday afternoon describing the challenge of childcare during Covid-19. As Axios author Erica Pandey put it, “The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inextricable link between childcare and the economy — and it’s pushing businesses to confront the cost of working parents’ unpaid side gig.”
Side gig, indeed. Childcare has been a significant ongoing topic in my family: our two sons and their spouses have been schooling us on the bicoastal difficulties (one son and family live on the east coast, the other on the west coast) of finding safe and affordable childcare during the pandemic – and finding safe and affordable childcare before the pandemic was already enough of a challenge.
Cost isn’t a bad place to start. Here in NYC, pre-K is offered by the city, but only starts at the age of three. NY Senator Gillibrand’s office says this about cost:
“In New York City, the cost of child care is increasing $1,612 per year. Now the average family spends up to $16,250 per year for an infant, $11,648 for a toddler and $9,620 for a school-age child. In Western New York, the cost of child care is increasing $600 per year.”
Is New York an outlier? Let’s look at national trends. This is what American Progress reported over a year ago:
“Licensed infant and toddler child care is unaffordable for most families: The average cost to provide center-based child care for an infant in the United States is $1,230 per month. In a family child care home, the average cost is $800 per month.”
Childcare is not a family issue, it’s a business issue. We know from research that working parents – a third of the US workforce – lose an average of eight hours per week due to child care responsibilities during the pandemic, per Northeastern University research.
We also know, from Care.com, that inadequate, unavailable, and unaffordable childcare costs US working parents $37 billion a year in lost income and cost US employers $13 billion a year in lost productivity.
Freelancers are particularly challenged. More and more full-time employees are working in organizations that recognize their role in helping their employees to ensure safe and affordable childcare for their kids. They’re doing so in a wide variety of ways, from establishing support groups to new benefits that reimburse employees for childcare, particularly during the pandemic. But, freelancers have no such benefit.
And freelance moms with kids are struggling most. As Heather Long of the Washington Post wrote:
“The pandemic recession has been dubbed a “she-session” because it has hurt women far worse than men. The share of women working or looking for work has fallen to the lowest level since 1988, wiping out decades of hard-fought gains in the workplace.
“On Friday, the Labor Department’s jobs report showed that the economy has gained back just over half of the jobs lost in March and April, but the situation remains dire for women. There are 2.2 million fewer women working or looking for work now than in January, vs. 1.5 million fewer men, according to the Labor Department data.
“Put another way, women have recovered only about 39% of the big drop in the labor force they suffered in the spring, while men have recovered 58% of their jobs. Much of the difference in these diverging fortunes for men and women boils down to moms having to stop working to take care of kids.”
What can freelancers do? Well, let’s start with the facts. For many freelancers, work is hard to find. We all know of stories about freelancers making great money and my Forbes colleague Elaine Pofeldt frequently writes about impressive freelance financial successes. But, these are a minority and in industries like events and entertainment, freelancers are particularly struggling. So, while child care may be available, the cost is often more than most freelancers can pay. What then might a freelancer do?
1. Do it yourself, with friends. Wendy Xaoi of the NY Freelancers Union points out that some freelancers join together to form childcare co-ops where parents share responsibilities. This approach solves the financial burden, but it demands a high level of involvement and ongoing communication. If parents don’t share the burden equally, and have similar parenting philosophies and goals and behavior and discipline policies, it can be difficult to keep the arrangement going. People come and go, potentially putting the co-op on an unstable volunteer base. And it may not be easy to find a space that works for the co-op.
2. Co-working alternatives. Xaoi also points out that some co-working spaces are beginning to offer childcare as part of membership. For example, the CoHatchery is a NYC co-working space with onsite childcare. It has a co-located but separate children’s space with breastfeeding rooms and has invested in a “unique curriculum created by early childhood education experts” in which parents can participate. It describes its advantage this way: “CoHatchery’s vision is to empower parents to pursue big careers without compromising parenthood. (We) enable true work-life integration by building a family-friendly work environment that allows parents to integrate their work day with their child’s day (which means) parents can spend more time with their children throughout the day and transition seamlessly between work and life.”
3. As remote expands, seek less expensive cities and suburbs. As the opportunity for remote increases for both employees and freelancers, a move to a less expensive city can make all the difference. We know that some parts of the US have been actively recruiting freelancers, in fact I’ve written about the efforts that legacy cities like Tulsa OK have made to attract freelancers, including offering money and accommodation. Suburbs of major cities also offer greater opportunity and lesser cost for childcare. As a recent article in Mother.ly put it, “In some cities, daycare costs as much a rent, and may even outrun a mortgage payment for the number one spot in a family’s expenses.”
4. Get help and advice from your freelance platform or community. Sometimes we just need a little advice from a parent who has experienced and lived through what we’re just beginning to experience. Hoxby, a UK freelance community, offers a blog for members with ideas for how others are dealing with the challenge of raising a family and freelancing. Instant Teams, a community of US military spouses comprising freelance and full time customer success professionals provides ongoing advice on childcare (e.g., things to do) to its members.
5. Seek stronger advocacy. Finally, we freelancers need our platforms and associations to advocate for better conditions. The fact is, childcare is expensive, it’s often difficult to find safe and reliable childcare. Advocacy organizations like Freelancers Union in the US and IPSE in the UK, and professional organizations that represent freelancers in industries like IT need to continue to make the case for why freelancers need support. While employees have paid leave available to them in most parts of the world, and certainly here is the states, freelancers do not. It’s possible for freelancers to buy insurance to cover paid family leave, but coverage can be expensive and freelancers may face long waiting period before they can use their benefits.
But, first things first: let’s be clear that freelancers represent an increasingly larger and important part of the workforce, and that they need the same help that employees need: safe, affordable childcare. Moreover, the pandemic has hurt working women far worse than men. The share of women working or looking for work has fallen to the lowest level since 1988, wiping out decades of hard-fought gains in the workplace. We need to fix the problem of safe and reliable childcare for freelancers or more and more talented individuals – too often, female – will have an unnecessarily tougher time making it.
Viva la revolution!
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