U.S. childcare in short supply as burned-out workers quit, new hires hard to find

By Jonnelle Marte

(Reuters) -Rochelle Wilcox, the owner of three childcare centers in New Orleans, receives 10 to 15 phone calls nearly every day for each school from parents asking if there is space for their children.

But Wilcox has to turn them away. While her enrollment is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels, she doesn’t have the staff to take on more students.

“I have to say that we’re full,” said Wilcox, who capped the wait list for the three schools at 140 children, compared to the more typical range of 45 to 60. She estimates the schools could accept nearly 40 more children if she could hire 10 more staffers.

Childcare centers across the country are struggling to find enough qualified educators to be fully staffed for back-to-school season, an obstacle that has some schools reducing planned enrollment and cutting back hours. Owners of childcare centers say more workers are quitting and fewer people than usual are applying for open positions.

The staffing crunch is further limiting childcare options for parents eager to get back to work. It also creates more hurdles for working mothers, who were disproportionately pushed out of the labor market when schools went virtual and childcare centers closed because of the pandemic.

Without reliable childcare, it will become more difficult for those parents to return to steady work schedules, economists say, potentially slowing a labor market recovery that many had hoped would get a jolt as schools reopened this fall and which becomes even more critical as enhanced jobless benefits expire in September.

Research released on Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta found that women with children under age 6 made up 10% of the workforce before the pandemic but accounted for 22% of the jobs lost during the crisis. The ability to find quality childcare is “likely to be a determining factor for employment” for women with young children, Atlanta Fed researcher M. Melinda Pitts wrote in the report.

Four out of five early childhood educators working at childcare centers said they were understaffed in late June and early July, according to a survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. More than one in three respondents said they were thinking about leaving or shutting down their centers this year.

Recruiting childcare workers has always been difficult because wages are typically low – workers earn a median of $12 an hour according to the Labor Department – and the work is demanding. But those challenges were exacerbated by the pandemic, which put workers’ health at risk and, with many quitting, created greater responsibilities for those who remained on the job.

The renewed focus on the workforce is leading to a national conversation about early childhood educators and what needs to change to provide them with more opportunities and reduce turnover.

“I think what we’re going through right now is a revaluing of care work and understanding that care work is the work that makes all other work possible,” said Mara Bolis, associate director of women’s economic rights for Oxfam America.


Employment of child daycare workers plunged by 36% at the start of the pandemic after many centers shut down, greater than the roughly 15% drop in employment seen in the U.S. labor market overall, according to Labor Department data. Childcare employment was still down 11% from pre-pandemic levels as of July, compared to a 4% shortfall for the labor market overall.

Some workers leaving the industry now say they are worried about the health risks or are burning out after being asked to work longer hours with less support. Some people are moving into more lucrative roles as nannies, which came into higher demand during the pandemic with daycare centers shuttering and as more families opted to keep their children at home.

Amanda Chugg worked through the early part of the pandemic at a childcare center based in a hospital campus in Portland, Oregon. But she left in May of 2020 because too many of her colleagues were showing up to work sick and she was concerned about exposing her roommate, who is immunocompromised, to COVID-19.

“Having people coming to work sick is not uncommon in childcare,” said Chugg, 26, who now works as a nanny taking care of two children, ages four and six. “But with the onset of COVID it got to a place where it was untenable for me.”

Jordan Potts, 21, realized it was time for a change after being asked to work multiple 12-hour shifts because the center she worked at in north Texas was short-staffed. Many of the teachers hired to help would leave after a week or two.

“It kind of clicked, the burnout,” said Potts, who quit in August after about three years in the industry. Instead of caring for a room of about 10 one-year old’s, Potts is now working as a full-time nanny caring for a five-month old baby. While her pay is about the same, her responsibilities as a nanny are more manageable, said Potts, who will start college in January and wants to be an elementary school teacher.


Owners of childcare centers say they want to boost wages to retain more workers. But they argue they are limited in terms of how much more they can offer before they have to start raising tuition – putting more pressure on families already struggling to afford childcare.

That tension is not new, but some childcare center owners feel they are competing more intensely with retailers, restaurants and other businesses that are better able to increase pay or sweeten benefits to attract more workers during the pandemic.

Wilcox, the owner of the childcare centers in New Orleans, increased hourly wages for all of her staff this spring, going from a range of $10 to $13 per hour to a range of $12 to $16. But she still hasn’t been able to fill all of her openings.

In addition to better wages, early childhood educators say they need more opportunity for growth within the field, support from staff and broader access to health insurance, sick time and other benefits.

Megan Ahern initially envisioned she would spend her evenings coming up with creative lesson plans when she started teaching pre-Kindergarten full-time in Eugene, Oregon, in September of 2020.

But after struggling to afford groceries on her teacher paycheck alone, the 25-year-old started delivering food through Uber Eats after school. She worked close to 12 hours a day between the two jobs.

Ahern, who quit the school at the end of August, said she didn’t have the resources needed for her classroom, which included some children with special needs. Some of the children would hit, bite or pee on her. She was so overwhelmed she often found herself shedding tears during her 30-minute lunch breaks.

Ahern’s pay was increased to $17 an hour from $13 an hour in early August, but it wasn’t enough to change her mind. “Ideally I’ll be able to come back to working with kids at some point,” said Ahern, who plans to keep delivering food until she finds another job. “But I just need a break.”

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Dan Burns and Andrea Ricci)

Chicago homicides fall 16 percent in 2017

Chicago Police officers investigate a crime scene after a motorist was shot in the head and lost control of his vehicle along the 5300 block of west Monroe Street in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., October 31, 2017. The driver later died in the hospital, according to the police.

(Reuters) – Homicides in Chicago fell 16 percent in 2017 while shootings were down and firearms arrests were up, police said on Monday, marking a reduction in bloodshed that made the city a symbol of U.S. gun violence and an object of criticism for President Donald Trump.

Police reported 650 homicides in an annual report on crime statistics, down from 771 in 2016. Shooting incidents fell 22 percent and the number of shooting victims fell by 892 people, a 21 percent drop. Meanwhile, gun arrests increased 27 percent and police reported seizing more than 8,600 illegal weapons.

Police attributed the drop to putting more officers on the streets, investing in new technology and a smarter policing strategy.

The city was also coming off a high baseline after the number of homicides in 2016, which represented a nearly 60 percent spike from the previous year.

The United States’ third largest city still ranks No. 1 in murders, with more than the two largest cities combined. New York and Los Angles each had fewer than 300 homicides in 2017.

Overall crime for other offenses – including sexual assault, robbery, aggravated battery, burglary and vehicle theft – was down 2 percent, police said.

“I am proud of the progress our officers made in reducing gun violence all across the city in 2017, but none of us are satisfied,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in the report. “In 2018, we are going to work to build on the progress we made last year – to reduce gun violence, to save lives and to find justice for victims.”

Chicago initiated police reforms in 2017 after a federal investigation found officers routinely violated people’s civil rights, citing excessive force and racially discriminatory conduct.

The city hired more than 1,100 new police officers in 2017, and the department issued a new policy on use of force.

Crime fell by 43 percent in Englewood district and 26 percent in Harrison, the first two districts to employ so-called Strategic Decision Support Centers, police said.

The centers use predictive crime software to enable a more efficient deployment of officers, install more cameras, set up gunshot detection systems and send real-time notifications and intelligence data to officers on their smartphones, the department said.

The deployment of more than 7,000 body cameras was the largest of its kind in the United States, the report said.

Trump made Chicago crime a theme of his 2016 campaign and kept criticizing the city in 2017 even as crime fell.

“Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help. 1714 shootings in Chicago this year!” the Republican president wrote on Twitter in June.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Trump’s tweet referred to sending more federal agents to Chicago and plans to prosecute firearms cases aggressively.

A spokesman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, thanked the U.S. government for 20 additional agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives but said the progress was made before those agents had arrived.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)