When thousands of childcare centers and day cares reopened after the COVID-19 lockdowns lifted in 2020, it seemed as if those businesses, and the families they served, were through the worst of it.
Little did everyone know that two years later, an industry that was stretched to the brink even before the pandemic would be in still more turmoil, as childcare providers have been hit with a massive wave of closures.
Nearly 16,000 childcare centers and licensed family childcare programs closed permanently between December 2019 and March 2021, according to a new report from Child Care Aware of America. Those closures are due, in large part, to increased operating costs, razor-thin profit margins, unpredictable attendance as a result of COVID, and rising labor costs owing to inflation.
Those shuttered childcare providers represented a 9% decrease in childcare centers and day cares nationwide. And while that may seem low, the U.S. is already suffering from a dearth of childcare providers. Pre-pandemic, over half of Americans lived in areas considered “childcare deserts”—communities where there are either no childcare providers, or so few that there are three children for every open slot.
“Childcare programs are barely staying in business,” Lynette Fraga, CEO of Child Care Aware of America, a national nonprofit focused on childcare resources, said in a statement about the report. “Childcare programs are short-staffed, and providers are burned out."