Opinion

This fall is a blur of runny noses, body aches and lost pay for Jacob Terry.

His 18-month-old daughter came home from daycare with respiratory syncytial virus a few weeks ago. Now he’s got it while trying to juggle childcare responsibilities as a marketing freelancer.

“My daughter is home, she’s sick, I’m sick,” said Terry, 39, who lives near Los Angeles. “If I don’t work, I don’t eat. I’m exhausting myself and staying up all night to catch up. It’s a big problem.”

A new round of viral infections — flu, RSV, Covid-19 and the flu — collide with staff shortages in schools and daycares, creating unprecedented challenges for parents and teachers. Last month, more than 100,000 Americans missed work due to childcare issues All time high According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is higher than during the pandemic.

Caring for aging parents, sick spouses is putting millions out of work

Those absences are rippling through the economy and disrupting families and businesses, just as many thought they had turned the corner.

“At the same time we have sick children, we have a childcare problem – you put the two together and there’s no wiggle room,” said Diane Swank, chief economist at KPMG. “People are falling into trouble. This means missed paychecks, home layoffs, and staff shortages that erode productivity growth and increase costs while we worry about those things.

Nearly three years after the outbreak of the coronavirus, families, businesses and health care facilities say they are rebuilding. Pressure. Children’s hospitals nationwide are at capacity, primarily RSV and other respiratory viruses. Employees are calling in longer hours, reporting unfilled shifts and lost income. And parents are once again caught in an impossible situation, balancing sick children, school closures and workplace demands.

There are signs that these pressures are taking a toll on the economy. Employee productivity – A measure of goods and services that one worker can produce in one hour – posted a record high in the first half of this year, according to federal data.

“When you have too many workers unexpectedly, it’s a quiet drag on productivity,” said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo. “Childcare has always been a barrier for parents, but the inconsistent childcare problems we’ve seen recently – your child is sick or needs to be isolated or the daycare is closed – makes it even harder for working parents. “To return to labor.”

U.S. workers are less productive. No one is sure why.

The nation’s childcare system is still reeling from the resignation of thousands of teachers and staff who quit for higher salaries during the pandemic. Although the overall labor market has more than accounted for the losses in early 2020, the childcare sector has a big difference. Public schools are still short about 300,000 workers, and day cares are down 88,000 from pre-pandemic levels.

“We still haven’t addressed some of the major problems early in the epidemic, especially around childcare,” said Elizabeth Paley, a professor at Adelphi University who focuses on education, health and child care policy. “The average childcare worker is paid less than $12 an hour, which means they can make more at McDonald’s. Many people do not leave the industry and enter new ones.

Amid teacher shortages, some states are lowering employment requirements.

That deficit is creating an increasing burden. On the rest of the teachers. In interviews, many teachers said they felt they had no choice but to continue working when sick. Dozens of schools — including in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee — have canceled classes in recent days because so many students and teachers have fallen ill.

In Covington, Tenn., art teacher Kathryn Vaughan works at a rural elementary school so understaffed that she continues to teach — with a mask — even with RSV and walking pneumonia. About 15 percent of the school’s teachers are sick with RSV, Covid or the flu on any given day, she said. Substitute teachers — who are paid $65 a day — are hard to find. That means more classrooms are being combined and support staff, including secretaries, are filling in for teachers. Five nearby school districts were closed for days at a time due to illness and staff shortages, she said.

“It seems like we haven’t made any progress,” said Vaughn, 42. “We don’t have enough teachers. Access to health care is still a problem – many students here do not have pediatricians to see regularly. Hospitals in the province are closed.

Infectious-disease specialists say a combination of factors, including the weakening of the immune system by Covid-19, are contributing to the recent outbreak of viral infections. Also, “epidemic babies” protected from respiratory pathogens by social distancing and other preventive measures may now be getting sick. And although many schools have encouraged, even required, masks in the past, that’s not the case now, which has made it easier for various viruses to spread.

In Lincoln, Neb., Lindsay Dick started a new job as a case manager for a human resources services company in mid-October when her 3-year-old son came down with RSV. Dick, 37; She hasn’t paid vacation time yet, so she took a day off without pay. Her husband spent the rest of the week watching their son from home as a tech supporter.

“It was too much for all of us,” she said. “I only missed one day and even that made me feel anxious.”

Low-income families—particularly those less likely to have access to paid sick leave and employer-provided health insurance—remained. Beat moderately hard. While 96 percent of top earners took sick leave last year, Only 40 percent Among those with low income, according Federal data.

For low-income parents, no day care usually means no fees.

In Sevier County, Tenn., neither Drew Moore nor his wife, Raven, receive paid leave. Their children, ages 2 and 4, were sick for weeks, which meant they both had to cut back on their nearly $30,000 annual family income and cut back on work. Moore said he lost thousands of dollars worth of landscaping projects this fall, and had to give up lucrative weekend shifts at the steakhouse where his wife works.

The timing is particularly bad: Business is especially busy in the fall, when tourists flood nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Moore said. He recently had to go through a two-day koi cleaning job A fish pond, bringing in about $1,000, is his biggest job in months.

“Fall is the time to make money around here,” said Moore, 36. “But of course, it’s right when the kids get sick. I’m really afraid it’s going to screw us up financially.”

Back in Los Angeles, Terry, who was caring for his daughter, estimated he had lost at least two weeks of work due to RSV-related childcare disruptions. He and his wife, working two jobs as beauticians, eat the food they have saved to make ends meet.

“It’s been difficult for all of us,” he said. We thought things would eventually go back to normal, but it’s just one snowball after another.

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