- Advertisement -

The latest in the childcare crisis: Online learning benefits as a retention tool

Carleen Haylett, EnrichedHQ
Carleen Haylett
Carleen Haylett is the CEO of EnrichedHQ. In 2020, the single mother and technology leader witnessed pandemic-driven gaps in the U.S. educational space when her fifth-grade son began to thrive with homeschooling; yet, the lack of affordable, virtual extracurricular programs was a shock. Torn between motherhood and her career, she left her job and founded EnrichedHQ. Leveraging her 20-plus years in technology development, product management and sales, Carleen developed a platform that offers virtual extracurricular programs for middle and high school-age children to enrich and prepare them for life.

Discussions about childcare issues for working parents frequently focus on early childhood education, overlooking the unique challenges of parents of school-aged children.

- Advertisement -

In the U.S., parents of children aged 10-18 are the majority, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nevertheless, as HR leaders strive to bridge the gender pay gap by introducing comprehensive family benefits, such efforts often still cater to the needs of families with young children. Families with older kids are left to fend for themselves.

This oversight stems from a widespread misconception that the hurdles of childcare significantly diminish once children enter school. The assumption is that both the logistical difficulties and associated costs simply disappear. Yet, the reality is that the standard work schedule doesn’t align with school hours. Parents, especially mothers, are left to juggle their professional responsibilities with their children’s care.

This discrepancy introduces financial strains and exacerbates the professional setbacks women face. The coupling of these two influencers further cements the “Mommy Tax” and highlights a critical need in family support policies.

The “Mommy Tax” explained

We’re at a pivotal moment, navigating through a convergence of escalating childcare costs, emerging gaps in traditional education and the escalating demands from working families for more encompassing family benefits. This intersection is driving a significant shift, with the “Mommy Tax” playing a pivotal role in reducing the participation of women in the workforce. This decline is a key contributor to 80% of the gender pay disparity in the United States.

The essence of the “Mommy Tax” is captured by two primary components. The first is the detrimental effect on career advancement opportunities for working mothers. The second pertains to the economic pressures experienced by mothers of school-aged children, who must navigate the mismatch between standard work hours and the school schedule.

The existence of a wage gap between women and their male colleagues is a recognized fact. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights that women earn 82 cents on the dollar compared to men, and mothers endure an additional 5% wage penalty for each child compared to childless women.

- Advertisement -

This economic discrepancy is exacerbated by the challenges of securing affordable and accessible after-school and extracurricular activities for school-aged children. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost of after-school programs can surge to as much as $224 weekly per child, depending on the location and nature of the program. This financial burden is especially pronounced for single Black mothers, the largest group of single parents in the U.S. and the lowest wage-earners, often dedicating up to 50% of their annual income to cover these costs.

The role of HR in navigating the childcare crisis

The increasing costs of care are creating an exclusionary environment that disproportionately affects low- and middle-income families, making the market less accessible to them. As families strive for available childcare options, they often find themselves sacrificing quality, which, according to a McKinsey study, is driving tough decisions for working mothers. According to the study, as many as 37% of working mothers are considering job changes or exiting the workforce altogether, contributing to a staggering $57 billion economic burden on the U.S. economy.

Human resource leaders find themselves at a pivotal juncture, tasked with developing creative strategies to retain and support their female employees. Given the high percentage of parents of school-aged children in the workforce, it’s crucial for companies to broaden their approach to childcare beyond traditional concepts. These concepts include reassessing current childcare benefits and looking into partnerships with online educational platforms that cater to older children, for instance. By offering turnkey, economical solutions, companies can help alleviate the work-life balance pressures faced by working parents, fostering a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

An educational evolution: Embracing online learning for school-aged youth

The pandemic-induced closure of schools marked a pivotal change in education, compelling parents to seek alternative educational avenues for their kids. Online learning platforms have become a crucial resource for working parents with school-aged children, providing a diverse range of courses and activities designed to captivate children’s interests and impart valuable knowledge. When employers give their workforce access to this benefit, they can support working mothers in their dual roles and, in turn, promote retention.

Even before the pandemic, the need for after-school care was pressing for working families. The Afterschool Alliance noted that in 2020, for every child enrolled in an after-school program, there were two waiting for admission. The pandemic amplified this issue, with current statistics showing that now, for every child in such a program, there are four waiting in line. This increase in demand has led to higher care costs, making it inaccessible for many.

Recent findings by the EdWeek Research Center reveal that 73% of teachers believe digital tools effectively complement traditional teaching methods for after-school education. These digital marketplaces, which focus on programs that develop life skills for school-aged children, not only overcome geographical limitations but also offer tailored learning experiences that meet the unique learning styles and needs of individual students.

Choosing the right solution

One of the most significant advantages of online educational marketplaces is the flexibility and choice they offer. Employers can look for a few key items:

  • Expert providers: Look for a solution with a narrow set of experts who offer innovative options versus one with thousands of activities and a broad range of lightly vetted providers.
  • Life-skills focused: Older kids have different needs than pre-school-aged kids. Look for solutions that focus on life skills, equipping kids with capabilities and support in topics not offered through the school curriculum.
  • One-stop-shop: Marketplaces operating as an aggregate of links to external options offer little benefit to stressed-out parents. Look for solutions that do the heavy lifting for working families. This enables parents to eliminate the logistics of finding, scheduling, booking and managing across programs, providers and transactions.

By providing access to a wide range of programs at various price points, these platforms enable parents to find solutions that fit their budget and their children’s unique interests and needs. This accessibility is crucial in alleviating some of the pressures of the Mommy Tax, allowing parents to make informed decisions about their children’s education without compromising their career trajectories.

Securing the future by supporting mothers

Addressing the “Mommy Tax” and navigating the transition from daycare to school-aged care are essential steps HR can take to help cultivate a society that values equity and productivity.

The synergistic efforts between businesses and digital childcare platforms are vital for retaining skilled women in the workforce, promoting inclusive workplace cultures and enhancing the welfare of working parents. By investing in these areas, we not only support mothers but also secure a brighter future for the next generation.