Fewer Connecticut women receiving jobless aid as child care funding up
As Connecticut floods its child care industry with a prolonged surge of funding, the ratio of women receiving unemployment compensation has dropped to levels not seen since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of mid-January, just 30 percent of unemployment beneficiaries were women, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor, down 6 percentage points from a month earlier.
Child care centers were among the hardest hit industries early into the COVID-19 pandemic, with many workers choosing to go onto unemployment, whether to avoid contracting the virus, collect enhanced benefits under the American Rescue Plan and other programs, or both. With slots dwindling at day care centers, that prompted many parents to drop out of the work force to take care of their kids during school hours.
Between March 2020 and November 2021, more than half of the workers getting jobless aid were women, before men regained the majority heading into last year, save for the summer months when the ratio of women spiked back above the 50 percent mark.
Gov. Ned Lamont has plowed federal pandemic funding into the problem since, including $120 million for “operational stabilization” grants as described by the Lamont administration; $50 million for Connecticut’s Care 4 Kids program that is open for parents taking classes to further their career goals; and $32 million to boost payments to child-care centers accredited by two national associations, or those working toward that goal.
Connecticut and municipalities have been working also to expand the number of pre-school programs offered through their school districts, which would help reduce the strain on parents of children ages three and four.
And last October, the state paid $70 million to support onetime cash bonuses for child care workers, with full-timers getting $1,000 and part-timers $400.
“We definitely, in Connecticut, have child care deserts — they tend to be in high-need communities,” said Beth Bye, speaking in mid-January during a hearing with the Connecticut General Assembly for her reappointment as commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood. “We worked to add about 1,300 spaces for infants and toddlers, which is the real challenge for families and for programs because taking care of infants and toddlers is more expensive.”
Bye added she knows of some families are paying $500 or more weekly for child care, which annualized would approach the tuition, housing and meal costs the University of Connecticut calculates for in-state students.
As of November, the Connecticut Office of Early Education listed just over 1,375 day-care centers in Connecticut, with aggregate capacity for nearly 81,000 children. Another 1,800-plus people are licensed to run day-care centers in their homes, tacking on about 10,850 more available slots for families who prefer that environment, raising the total number of slots to nearly 92,000 in all as of last November.
Bye said the infusion of federal dollars helped many day-care centers survive the pandemic, with Lamont have suggested a renewed commitment as part of his administration’s planned budget next month.
Bright Horizons, which has nearly 1,500 slots at 14 centers in Connecticut, indicated last fall it was already seeing renewed interest nationally as some companies rope workers back into the normal commute after an extended stretch of remote working. But as of October, Bright Horizons had a ways to go, with just a quarter of its centers nationally at 80 percent of available capacity.
“In more than half of our centers, we have demand that outstrips our ability to actually service those interested families,” said Bright Horizons CEO Stephen Kramer, during a November conference call with investment analysts. “We continue to work really hard to improve our staff retention rates with things like wage increases and other benefits enhancements — and at the same time get really specific about improving our ... funnel for new recruits.”
During the Bye hearing this month, state Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, called attention to the number of child care workers whose income qualifies them for Medicaid health insurance coverage under Connecticut’s Husky Health program.
“It’s not good — it’s not our values here in the state of Connecticut,” Duff said. “We’ve got to make sure we straighten that out so that day-care workers, earlychildhood workers, are treated as workers who are valued and who can work in employment that pays for the level of education that we are expecting, and the level of care that we expect.”