In mid-March, cities across Missouri issued their stay-at-home orders in response to the growing COVID-19 crisis. Schools, businesses, places of worship, and many other establishments serving the public closed. However, child care programs serving the children of frontline workers stayed open, placing child care educators in the impossible situation of choosing between sustaining their livelihoods and risking being exposed to the coronavirus, or shuttering their doors and being unable to support themselves or their own families. What’s more, child care workers were supporting the COVID-19 response infrastructure—families of healthcare providers, grocery workers, delivery drivers and others—critical to the success of our statewide health and economic survival.
In our state, these educators are routinely overlooked and discounted, despite being tasked with one of the most critical and important jobs. Further, these entrepreneurs are rarely viewed as the professional business owners they are; not only are these individuals caring for children, they are operating a business, which needs to be sustainable—and should be treated with respect and afforded the same opportunities and benefits as other business owners.
If nothing else, this crisis has highlighted just how critical child care is to society, and just how much Missourians fall short in supporting these educators. In Missouri and across the U.S., many child care workers are low-income. In fact, from 2014-2016, 53% of child care workers were on at least one public assistance program (EdSource 2018). Child care workers are also more likely than other workers to lack health insurance and paid sick leave (The Atlantic 2015). These statistics and structures underscore the great need to overhaul our current system.