Progressive Voice: COVID-19 Shows Arlington Should Do More for Working Moms

Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’.

By Arbora Johnson and Victoria Virasingh

Numerous studies, including one by the Federal Reserve, show that women, especially women of color and immigrant women, have borne the brunt of economic pain during the pandemic.

This “she-cession” is the result of female job loss at a higher rate than that of men, and, simultaneously, the need to care for children not in school. So where does Arlington County stand on childcare assistance and support for working moms with school-age kids?

The plight of working moms is dire, with public K-12 schools completely closed for in-person learning for a full year and open since March for just two short days per week. Childcare for younger children, always expensive and hard to come by in the County, is out of reach for too many households. This is hitting women across Arlington from all socio-economic backgrounds and neighborhoods. It is even becoming a barrier to getting vaccinated.

“Maria” and her husband work minimum wage jobs in the restaurant and cleaning industry, with no work from home option. As restaurants started reopening, her husband picked up shifts — but they were still far behind financially. When cleaning jobs recently came her way, Maria had to make a choice. At the “brink of losing our apartment that we rent and needing money for food,” Maria decided to take the job and leave their young school-aged son at home doing virtual APS classes.

When asked about childcare options, she broke it down: Minimum wage paid $7.25/hour, while the cheapest childcare she can find in Arlington costs $13.00/hour. On May 1, after interviewing Maria, the minimum wage in Virginia rose to $9.50.

Andrea is a mother of two young elementary school age kids who, for the first time since graduating from college, reached the point where holding down her full-time job was no longer workable.

“I want to be working,” she said. “But it became untenable. We have no family nearby and Covid eviscerated the community and the other day-to-day supports that we previously utilized to keep our household functioning.”

Anyone trying to keep elementary schoolers on track in virtual school knows the challenge; those who can afford it hire tutors (which requires space) or make the choice to step back from their jobs.

A single mom of a 1-year-old, Vilma needed help getting to her appointment for the Covid vaccination. With no car and a 1-hour public transit route, she got help from the Rides to the Vaccines team. When she got a text from the woman giving her a ride asking, “Is there a car seat available or can you get childcare for the baby?” Vilma panicked because the answer was “no.”

Are these the kinds of choices Arlington moms should be facing?

No. These stories reflect difficulties women face around childcare, which predate the pandemic and merit the County’s prioritization through funding ideas such as:

  • Establish a multilingual hotline for assistance with identifying affordable summer childcare options, including APS summer school, County camps, private camps, and openings in daycare facilities. Finding summer childcare is difficult and expensive in the best of times, so this should not just be for the pandemic but become permanent.
  • Extend county-sponsored childcare programs that accommodate school-age children year-round. Doing so could include support for tutors, programs in which teens mentor elementary school students for service hours or part-time employment, and enrichment programs in County facilities.
  • Provide childcare or car seats for parents seeking vaccinations who rely on volunteer rides and include this in vaccination information sheets.
  • Build on the good work begun pre-Covid by the County to remove onerous regulations and boost support for childcare centers and in-home daycares, to make quality daycare for our youngest children affordable and available for all. Planning should happen now, in anticipation of support and funding coming from the Biden administration.

The scarcity of affordable childcare and limited support for working parents that has come into sharp focus in Arlington this past year long predates Covid-19.  Let’s build back better in Arlington by addressing childcare needs now with bold solutions that last long past the pandemic.

Arbora lives in Dominion Hills with her husband and three APS-enrolled kids. Since 2004, they have relied on a complex web of childcare to enable working parenthood: in-home daycare, full-time preschool, APS Extended Day, APS summer school, County summer camps, private summer camps, part-time babysitters, older siblings in charge, etc. 

Victoria Virasingh was born and raised in Arlington to an Ecuadorian mother and an Indian/Thai father. Through Communities in Schools, she is deployed to Barcroft Elementary School. She serves as Vice Chair of Outreach for the Arlington Democrats and is co-leading efforts on COVID-19 vaccine registration outreach and Rides to the Vaccines within the Hispanic community.