The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the clear need for child care, paid leave, and unemployment assistance, but many state and federal unemployment assistance and paid leave programs fail to account for the child care needs of working families. For many parents of dependent children, widespread closure of child care and in-person school made searching for work and securing and retaining formal employment nearly impossible. This brief describes how unmet child care needs intersect with and can be mitigated by state and federal unemployment assistance and paid leave programs, and provides policy recommendations to address the care crisis in the short-run and beyond. An accompanying workbook chronicles and analyzes state-by-state policies on the availability of wage replacements for workers without child care.

The table lists policies on the availability of unemployment assistance and paid leave by state, including D.C. and territories, including definitions of school “closures” for regular and pandemic unemployment assistance eligibility, work search requirements, and working documentation of state paid leave programs.

Key Takeaways

  • The COVID-19 pandemic shrunk child care availability, pushing many working parents, including many women of color and women who are paid low wages, out of formal employment.
  • Though unemployment assistance and paid (family, medical, and sick) leave can buffer income losses when parents are unable to work because they are caring for their children, the reach and generosity of these programs have been insufficient and uneven across states and territories.
  • Federal and state policymakers can take the following steps to address and mitigate working parents’ unmet child care needs:
    • Provide additional emergency and longer-term child care funding and ensure safe school re-openings;
    • Establish, expand, and extend federal and state paid leave programs; and
    • Align emergency and permanent unemployment assistance with the lived experiences of working parents.

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