ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES (November 1, 2020) —
Fueled by disappearing service-sector jobs and a lack of child care options, our nation is experiencing the onset of our first female-led recession– more appropriately, a “Shecession.”
At the same time, women— who are the majority of essential workers— have been pushed to the frontlines of the pandemic without sufficient access to child care. Nearly half of child care centers have closed or reduced capacity, leaving working mothers without care.
We at the YWCA have always known that safe, affordable, child care is the key to women’s economic empowerment. From our 1940s child care co-op to our current Early Learning Program and Empowerment Child Care, we have always prioritized working mothers in Buncombe County. Our county is “lucky” in that most centers survived the first wave of the pandemic.
Today’s child care system is failing everyone—parents, children, child care workers, and the American economy. The system relies on a low-earning, predominantly female workforce to provide child care that is insufficient to meet the needs of working parents across all income levels. In fact, in Buncombe County and Asheville, our pre-COVID child care vacancy rate for children under 3 was already less than 1%, and if you rely on child care vouchers, finding an open slot can be nearly impossible.
Even before the pandemic, caretakers have been forced to choose between their careers and their families. Today women, especially women of color, are leaving the workforce at an alarming rate. The TIMES UP foundation confirms that since the pandemic began, over 60 percent of women of color have lost their hours, faced a pay cut, or been laid off/furloughed. Latina unemployment is nearing 20 percent, followed by 16 percent unemployment among Black and Asian American women, with white women hovering at 13 percent.
This “Shecession” will have rippling effects for many generations and for our organization it strikes us at our core. At the YWCA, our mission is an intersectional one: eliminating racism and empowering women. We have long recognized the need to prioritize the prosperity of all women in order to achieve our vision, and COVID-19 has only highlighted the urgency of our mission and work.
Women’s economic advancement in the 21st century should be supported by two central pillars: comprehensive child care and job security. In order to move forward, we— our community and our country–– must address both. We must establish and invest in a high-quality child care system that addresses availability, cost, and equity to aid the nation’s COVID-19 recovery and support long term economic resilience. This robust, comprehensive child care system must also compensate child care workers fairly, as they are the workers on which the rest of the economy relies. To address the second pillar, job security, we must shift gender norms and our culture that places women in the lowest-paying positions and in jobs that penalize them for needing to stay home when their child is sick, then passes them up for promotions based on a systematic lack of support for working mothers. Solving these problems will take all of us.
We applaud the WNC Early Childhood Coalition for their advocacy work and Buncombe County’s efforts in creating the Early Childhood Education and Development Fund to address the issues of equitable child care. We are proud of the number of local groups dedicated to improving the child care infrastructure, and at the same time, we know that rebuilding our economy from the effects of COVID-19 and climbing out of the “Shecession” will take a collective effort. In a recent YWCA voting survey, women cite child care, jobs, equal pay, and fair workplaces among their chief concerns. It’s past time to start addressing these concerns. The YWCA and our partners will continue to work towards a future that acknowledges and addresses these hurdles by placing them at the forefront.
YWCA of Asheville is on a mission. For 113 years, we have been at the forefront of movements for social justice, freedom, and equality. Love our work?