Article By: Lindsay Smith
Niagara This Week
Read original at: https://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/10210950–it-s-plus-plus-plus-coun-diana-huson-says-child-care-key-to-economic-recovery/
Whether the term is “pink-collar recession” or “she-cession,” research shows women have suffered significant economic setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. And as experts and government officials look toward recovery, one factor stands out: child care.
It was a key component of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s throne speech on Sept. 23, but Pelham’s regional councillor, Diana Huson, was thinking about it back in August when she presented a motion to regional council about the role of child care in the economic recovery.
“The motion really was a call to action on behalf of the provincial government, in terms of asking them to recognize child care as being essential to our economic recovery,” she said.
Huson said when schools and child care centres shut down in March, families had to adapt quickly and, in most cases, mothers stepped in to manage child care or schooling.
Of course, women were also impacted by widespread business shutdowns due to the pandemic, said Huson, citing the Niagara Workforce Planning Board report that showed women suffered significant job loss or reduced hours in sectors such as food service, accommodation, retail and entertainment.
“All those sectors that tend to be prevalent in Niagara … so those sectors we’ve seen a disproportionate amount of women have to leave the workforce … and step into the role to pick up the slack in regards to the absence of child care infrastructure that we so desperately need,” said Huson.
Kate Bezanson, associate dean in the faculty of social sciences at Brock University, said Niagara faces a “double whammy” in this recession because not only are mothers wrestling with child care concerns, but there are a significant number of women employed in the hard-hit sectors of accommodation, tourism and service.
“We really need to think about this as a very, very different kind of recession,” she said. “It calls for very different tools, in the immediate term and in the long term.”
And for Bezanson, the data supports significant investment in child care, which is why she was glad to see reference to “a significant, long-term, sustained investment” in a national child-care program in the Liberal government’s throne speech.
“What the pandemic has revealed is (the) care structure that sort of underlies the economy is vulnerable and fragile,” she said, adding that research shows one third of mothers have considered leaving the labour market during the pandemic.
“Mothers’ income in Canada makes up somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 per cent of household spending power,” Bezanson said. “And we simply can’t make up in any other area of the economy that heft of spending power and, of course, household resiliency.”
Bezanson said one of the most important factors in getting women back into the workforce will be “access to safe, quality, affordable, accessible child care.”
“If we’re looking for policy tools that can help us move from this period of shifting landscape to a meaningful, sustained return, it’s a really safe and smart investment,” she said.
Huson said a national child-care program would have significant economic benefits, referring to research that shows a correlation to an increase in women’s labour force participation with an increase in a country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“Not only is it good policy for supporting households and children in terms of their growth and development, (but) it has very positive economic spillovers into our communities and contributing to our economy,” she said. “It’s just plus, plus, plus.”
Huson said beyond the economic benefits of a national child-care plan, there are also educational benefits for children.
“Having a model that is developed based on early childhood principles also invests in our children and helps to identify where children may have behaviour or developmental issues that we can catch much quicker than in a private system,” she said.
According to a recent report from RBC Economics, women’s participation in the labour market hit a 30-year low in the summer. Huson called it “horrifying,” and Bezanson said there are impacts to those numbers outside of economics.
“(There is) the longer term consequences of the gender equality gains, but also diversity in our organizations. These are significant and they will have lasting impacts.”
Bezanson said a national child-care strategy could give equal focus to affordability, accessibility and quality, which she said will increase wages for early-childhood educators as well as make child care more affordable and accessible for families.
“Just on the financial side of things, it aids things. It also aids families when it’s high quality, when it’s developmental,” she said. “It makes it possible for families to make employment decisions based on having really good choices available for them.”
Huson said, from her perspective as a regional councillor, it’s important for government to be making “decisions that are data driven to make sure they’re using our resources as efficiently and effectively as possible,” and she said an investment in a public child care system makes sense.
“I think if the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s how vital child care is to support our economy,” she said.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Recently published data shows that women have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 recession. With a national child-care strategy in the news again, especially after the Liberal government’s throne speech on Sept. 23, reporter Lindsay Smith spoke with a regional councillor and a Brock professor about why child care will be key in getting women back to work.
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