Many thousands of child care providers caught in the same tsunami that knocked out Rockport are asking the same questions, as are many thousands more who have stayed open, but barely. All of them are caught in the unworkable math of pandemic child care: Too few tuition-paying children to support the needed staff. Too many new expenses required to keep the doors open safely. Too few loans and grants available to help bridge the gap for the mostly female small business owners who provide the bulk of the nation’s child care.

These effects have been especially stark in communities of color. Child care workers are disproportionately women of color, thousands of whom have continued working with minimal protection while many thousands more lost their jobs. Affordable, quality child care was already scarce in Latinx and Native communities, according to research on child care deserts by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank. And while less likely to live in child care deserts, median-income Black families already pay a larger share of their income on child care than other groups, the center found.

Publicly funded programs for those living in poverty are more likely to survive the current storm, but there aren’t enough of those programs to serve everyone who needs them. And closures in the private sector have left many families without safe child care options. For families of color, a disproportionate number of whom are headed by essential workers or single parents, that problem was only compounded.

Among child care centers that have remained open, 81 percent enroll fewer kids today — half as many in some states — than they did pre-pandemic, according to a survey of more than 6,000 providers conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a professional organization for early educators. As vaccines make it into arms, experts expect enrollment to increase, but it’s unclear how quickly that will happen since it is also unclear how many child care spots will still be available.

To survive with fewer tuition-paying families and expensive new pandemic safety guidelines, 42 percent of child care providers surveyed by NAEYC in November had taken on personal debt, often on credit cards. Providers say they don’t know how long they can hold on.

Read the full article about child care centers after the pandemic by Lillian Mongeau at The Hechinger Report.