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Blog Post · February 24, 2022

Pandemic-Strained Parents Sacrifice Work to Care for Their Children

photo - Mother with daughters in the kitchen

More than a year into the pandemic, many parents of young children rely on child care arrangements that the pandemic continues to severely disrupt. California’s working parents continue to struggle with these disruptions. For those with children under five years old, such disruptions most often affected Black parents and parents without a college education. When children couldn’t attend child care, parents often had to change their work arrangements.

Some parents adapted by supervising their children while working, while others reduced work hours or took unpaid leave. However, some left or lost jobs ­– sacrificing work to care for their children.

Between July and December of 2021, California’s parents and child care providers continued to struggle with the uncertainty brought on by surges in the delta and omicron variants. On average, 31% of working parents endured some form of disruption that required their child to stay at home—including the financial strain of affording child care, provider closures, and coronavirus health risks.

These disruptions varied by race, with 40% of Black and 33% of Asian parents disrupted more often than average. In contrast, Latino and white parents were disrupted less often than average. At 32%, low-income households also dealt with child care issues slightly more often.

More households reported child care disruptions in summer months (34%) than in the fall (29%) or winter (30%). Parents with and without a college education saw child care arrangements disrupted at the same rate, 31%, which is the same as the average.

The same percentage of college-educated parents faced disruptions as parents who weren’t college-educated.  The most common adjustments for college-educated parents were taking paid leave or supervising their children while working. In contrast, parents without a college education lost, left, or didn't look for jobs more often than college-educated parents, despite facing child care disruptions at the same rate.

Parents of different races coped with child care disruptions in different ways:

  • Black parents lost or left their jobs more often than other racial groups.
  • Latino parents took unpaid leave more often than other racial groups.
  • Asian parents used paid leave more often than others.
  • White parents cut work hours and/or supervised their children while working more often than any other group.
  • White and Latino parents refrained from looking for jobs at the same rate (21%), the highest among racial groups.

Child care provides a necessary service that facilitates equitable access to employment opportunities for parents along with learning opportunities for children. It also promotes intergenerational mobility and economic growth. Efforts such as California’s Master Plan for Early Learning and Care and recent budget proposals on early childhood services call for restructuring California’s child care landscape. These endeavors may improve how parents balance their work and child care responsibilities.

To aid working families in pandemic recovery, the state needs to continue efforts toward making child care services accessible and reliable. To support an equitable recovery, policymakers may need to give greater attention to paid leave and other family-friendly policies—in particular among jobs disproportionately held by workers of color and less-educated workers.


child care coronavirus COVID-19 Economic Trends Economy employment Health & Safety Net jobs Population racial disparities