Illinois Childcare Workers Experienced Employment Interruptions During Early Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Historically, childcare workers have received low wages and experienced high levels of burnout—both nationally and in Illinois. How did the already struggling childcare workforce fare in the wake of a global pandemic that disrupted nearly all forms of employment? Chapin Hall researchers analyzed Illinois employment data through 2020 to better understand the impacts on the childcare labor market in the early days of the pandemic and establish a baseline from which to measure future recovery.

What We Did

We used quarterly unemployment insurance (UI) wage data collected by the Illinois Department of Employment Security to identify two cohorts of childcare workers. The pandemic cohort had stable employment in the industry as of the fourth quarter of 2019. The prepandemic cohort had stable employment in the industry as of the fourth quarter of 2018. We examined one year of quarterly wage records for each cohort and categorized employment trajectories into five patterns. We compared how often these patterns appeared between the two cohorts to assess the pandemic’s impact on the labor force. 

What We Found

    • Of roughly 30,000 childcare workers in each cohort, about 4,000 fewer workers were continuously employed (that is, they had wages in all four quarters) in 2020 compared to 2019. The workforce that was continuously employed in 2020 decreased by 20% compared to 2019.
    • About 10% of workers in the pandemic cohort had no earnings in the second or third quarter of 2020 but later returned to the childcare industry.
    • While there were no significant differences in the rates at which workers changed industries, almost twice as many workers left the child care industry during the pandemic year and did not have any further earnings.
    • The lowest-paid workers were most likely to experience employment disruptions in 2020.
    • 42% of workers in the pandemic cohort received unemployment insurance in 2020, compared to less than 3% of the prepandemic cohort. A little over half of workers who left the childcare industry and did not report subsequent earnings collected UI benefits.


What It Means

The early pandemic period had a negative impact on the childcare workforce. Workers lost wages and experienced short-term employment disruption. Further, workers left the childcare field. Our analysis did not show that the decrease in the labor force was due to workers moving to other industries or staying home with the enhanced UI benefits. While more workers left employment in the childcare field and did not collect subsequent wages, only half of these workers collected unemployment insurance. 


Recommended Citation
Goerge, R. M., Wiegand, E. R., & McQuown, D. (2022). Impacts of the early COVID-19 pandemic on Illinois's childcare workforce. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

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