The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing recession have brought into stark relief the essential role of child care for families, communities, and our economy overall. But like many other essential workers, child care workers—most of whom are women, disproportionately women of color—are undervalued and often paid poverty-level wages. Women have exited the labor force in record numbers during the pandemic, driven in large part by the inaccessibility of child care. At the same time, jobs for child care workers are also in peril; there have been more than 170,000 child care jobs lost since February 2020, meaning nearly half of the child care jobs lost at the beginning of the pandemic have not yet returned. A real economic recovery, especially for women, will not be possible unless we build a strong child care system while also dismantling the systemic inequalities facing Black and brown women in the workplace—including the fundamental injustice of minimum wage laws that allow employers to pay people too little to meet their basic needs.

This piece is a companion to The Care Minimum, which presents a more robust discussion of the intersection of raising wages and funding the child care system.