Household Experiences: COVID-19’s Continued Impact on Parents and Children

In a couple of our previous blogs, we took a look at the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on education and employment. It’s undeniable that many households in the United States and in Metro Detroit have experienced shifts in their household dynamics, with many schools and employers either closing or changing to online communication methods during the spring.

Now, we’re over a month into a new school year, and are getting a good idea of how schools and childcare facilities are responding to pandemic-related regulations and precautions. We’re going to examine the impact of these changes to schools and childcare facilities on school-aged children and their parents, and how the Census Household Pulse Survey numbers have changed in the past few months.

COVID-19’s Continued Impact on Childcare and Education

The biggest impact that COVID-19 has had on households with children is the impact that it has had on the availability of childcare services and classroom education. Sending kids back to school is simply not an option for many families. 

A few schools attempted a full on-campus, appropriately distanced reopening, and some others adopted a part-time or hybrid approach to reopening. However, per CDC guidelines, the safest approach to quickly getting school back in session is to move to a 100% online or distance learning model, and that is what many schools are doing. 

In our first blog about the changes in household education dynamics, we found that the majority of children enrolled in public or private schools were moved to some form of distance learning, with over 70% of Metro Detroit respondents reporting that children in their households were moved to online classes. As of the beginning of October, the Household Pulse Survey data (September 16-September 28) indicates that now more than 73% of respondents with school-aged children have children enrolled in online distance learning.

It’s apparent that the majority of school-aged children are still engaged in online distance learning. Additionally, there are now over 12.5% of Metro Detroit respondents that indicate that classes have changed in some other way—compared to only 2.6% in early June. 

Compared to the numbers from the end of last school year, respondents also indicated that significantly fewer classes have been cancelled completely—just over 25% compared to 44.5% before. There has also been a decline in the number of classes that are sending paper materials home, potentially indicating that there are better processes in place for distance learning models in Metro Detroit.

Mindful data consumption note: This data is inclusive, so parents can select multiple categories for a single student, such as a child attending in-person but with some elective classes remaining cancelled, or parents with multiple children attending different schools can indicate that schools are implementing alternative learning measures differently. 

The survey also does not capture how many students are attending in-person classes either full or part-time. Even schools that are offering hybrid or full-time classroom attendance are at risk of abruptly needing to switch to full distance learning later in the Fall or Winter, similar to the shift that occurred in schools in March when COVID-19 related restrictions were first introduced.

Which Children  are Impacted the Most

As we learned in our first household impact blog, not all households are impacted equally by these changes in schooling format. In June, the Household Pulse Survey indicated that children in the care of respondents ages 25-54 were spending the greatest amount of time on learning activities, while those in care of adults under age 25 or over age 55 were lagging behind with fewer than 10 hours a week spent on learning activities. 

Since June, the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey has entered Phase 2, featuring new indicators to gauge how certain factors have changed in each household since the beginning of the pandemic, collected every two weeks. In the latest survey, “time spent on learning activities” has been updated to indicate whether as much time, less time, or more time is being spent on learning activities in each household relative to the amount of time spent on learning activities prior to the pandemic. 

Even with this change in response format, it is still evident that children of respondents ages 25-54 have been spending more time on learning activities than children in the care of younger or older respondents in Metro Detroit. Nearly one third of respondents ages 24-39 indicated that children in their household were spending about the same amount of time on learning activities now as they were prior to the pandemic. 

Similarly, we had previously found that respondents who identified as Hispanic or Latino with school-aged children spent far fewer hours on learning activities than respondents of other races. This may not still be the case in the September 16-28 survey. While nearly 30% of respondents that identified as Hispanic or Latino indicated that children in their household spent much less time on learning activities—a higher percentage than respondents of other races—more than 30% indicated that children in their household were spending a little more time on learning activities—which is also a much higher percentage than respondents of other races. 

What It Means for Parents 

Parents are faced with new challenges regarding pandemic-related changes to schools and childcare. Namely, many parents who could previously rely on school and/or childcare services to help support their children are newly finding ways to balance their careers and financial security, their children’s health and safety, and their children’s academic growth and success. 

Of course, these have previously been concerns as well, but the pandemic has added elements of uncertainty to the dynamic of relying on caretakers. Reduced household income due to pandemic-related job loss means that many households no longer can afford to pay for daycare centers, sitters, or nannies, especially on a full time basis. 

Parents who haven’t experienced loss of employment or income have the potential to lose their childcare as well. Concerns for health and safety of vulnerable family members, such as infant children or sick or elderly grandparents have led households that would normally rely on family members as caretakers to opt to keep their children at home instead. And even parents that do not rely on relatives to help with childcare, and can afford to pay for daycare services, are bound by new restrictions due to pandemic-related health and safety policies in childcare centers and schools. 

Impact on Working Parents

The biggest problem for most parents in the face of increased distance learning is that in addition to needing to juggle childcare, education, and financial obligations in the face of reduced or lost employment and uncertainty, the majority of parents work. And many of the working parents who were displaced by COVID-19 are seeking to return to work to regain or maintain financial security, rather than stay home to attend to their children’s care and education full time. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), last year roughly 76% of mothers of children age 6-17 in the United States were actively employed—accounting for 15 million people. 80% of these moms worked full time jobs. An even higher percentage of fathers—92%—were employed, with 96% of those working full time jobs. 

The BLS has also determined that across industries, the average American full time worker works close to 41 hours per week, and spends an additional 2.5 hours per week commuting. This means that the average full-time employee with children who does not have the option to work from home needs 43.5 hours of weekly childcare.

Standard classroom hours were able to provide care and educational support for children for 30 of those 43.5 hours for parents of children age 6-17. Prior to the pandemic, parents who worked full time needed to cover about 13.5 hours of childcare—which means that even part-time or hybrid models of school reopening can double the time that parents need to find alternative (often paid) care for their school-aged children. Full-time distance learning models mean that parents that need to work away from home full time need to arrange and pay for more than 40 hours of childcare per week. 

And, as we stated earlier in this blog, finding alternative childcare is not always an affordable option, or even an option that’s at all available due to pandemic-related restrictions or health concerns. 

Young working moms are taking the brunt of at-home childcare responsibilities and helping with new online learning routines. According to the Census Household Pulse Survey, American women ages 25-44 are nearly three times more likely than men in the same age group to leave their jobs, or remain unemployed after losing their jobs, due to increased childcare demands. The percentage of women who report they have stopped working due to child care needs has increased 4.8% from the Week 1 of the pandemic (27.3%) to Week 12 (32.1%). 

Lasting Impact 

More concerning still is the potential for a much more lasting impact on the availability of childcare. A survey of 94 individuals involved with Michigan childcare programs indicates that there is significant concern that these programs will be unsustainable without some intervention. 

33% of respondents indicated that they are certain that their programs will close permanently without additional public assistance. An even higher percentage of respondents—57%— indicated that they expect their programs to close within six months without receiving additional public funding, assuming that the facilities are operating at a capacity of 80% or less. 

This survey also revealed that over one fifth of childcare centers remained closed for the months of March through June, and 79% of the open facilities were serving fewer children, with enrollment down by a whopping 57% on average. 

In the face of the reduced enrollment and reduced income, costs of keeping these programs open are increasing, as the majority of facilities are paying more money out of pocket for more effective cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for the staff and children. This has led to pay cuts, furloughs, or layoffs in 75% of responding childcare programs. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertain times for households in a number of ways. At Data Driven Detroit, our goal is to use data to answer questions about how people are being affected and how people and programs can plan for the future and help the populations that need it the most. 

Do you have more questions about the pandemic’s impact on your community? Just AskD3!