- 104,000 Americans missed work in October due to "childcare problems."
- The record figure was driven by many children falling sick COVID, the flu, or RSV.
- Missing work could have serious financial impacts for workers without paid sick leave.
During the height of the pandemic, thousands of Americans were forced to take absences from work to care for their children. The problem could be worse now than ever before, especially as a possible recession looms.
In October, a record high 104,000 Americans missed work due to "childcare problems," according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data dating back to 2003. The October figure surged past the prior high of 93,000 in October of 2020.
KPMG Chief Economist Diane Swonk attributed the record rise to a "trifecta of kids filling ICUs with RSV, flu and out sick to COVID."
—Diane Swonk (@DianeSwonk) November 9, 2022
While the number of Americans infected with COVID has fallen off in recent months, there is still an average of roughly 40,000 new reported cases every day in the US. At the same time, flu season has come early this year, experts say. As of early November, the CDC reported that at least 2.8 million Americans had fallen ill with the flu.
And then there are RSV infections, a respiratory virus that is hitting the US earlier than usual. Cases are on the rise, and while they typically cause only mild illness, many children have already been hospitalized this season.
The CDC says most children get an RSV infection by the time they turn two, but some scientists have speculated the stay-at-home nature of the pandemic led to some children never catching RSV. The current spike in cases now, they say, is because many children are finally getting it after years of relative isolation.
Whether it's COVID, the flu, or a RSV infection, Swonk says kids getting sick is the key "childcare problem" keeping kids out of school or daycare — and parents out of work.
Some parents can work remotely when their children are sick, but most Americans aren't so lucky. As of this past June, 55% of Americans were working on-site full-time, per a WFH Research survey, and this number may have risen further in recent months as some employers called workers back to the office.
While some parents can miss work without any impact to their wages, many Americans don't have access to paid sick leave. An August Urban Institute paper, for instance, found that workers who missed work due to illness or childcare obligations lost out on "roughly $28 billion" in wages between March 2020 anf February 2022.
Have you missed work recently due to childcare needs and are willing to discuss how it has affected your family financially? Reach out to this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.