CARA MOODY: How am I going to go to work? How am I going to care for my son? What - and I have no family here. So I'm pretty much in this alone. What am I going to do? I don't know.
This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot… and need to talk about more.
I’m Anna Sale.
After three months at her home in Pittsburgh this spring, Cara Moody got called back to her waitressing job on June 15th.
CM: You know, your job asks you to go back to work. You don't have a choice, you have to say yes to your job.
ANNA SALE: Were you comfortable going back to work?
CM: Absolutely not. No way. I’m still not comfortable going back to work. I’m like serving people who have potential Covid positive mussels and fries just so they can come out to eat and feel some sort of normalcy. So it is scary.
Cara lives with her five-year-old son, Colton. I could hear him in the background, playing with his Legos as we talked.
[COLTON: “Mom!” CM: “Yes, Colton?” COLTON: “He jumps on here.”]
Cara is a single mom. So when the restaurant where she’s worked for the past 13 years reopened, she needed childcare. She sent her son back to the daycare where he went, before the pandemic.
CM: And the first couple of days going back to daycare, he cried and he didn’t want to go. And that, you know, wasn't like him before. But you know, he knows that there's a virus and that the virus makes people sick, because I was trying to explain to him why we couldn't go places, why we couldn't do things. [COLTON: Or Chuck E. Cheese!] Right! Chuck E. Cheese was closed.
AS: Are you, um - if his daycare were to not be there anymore, were to close. Do you know what your family would do?
CM: Not a clue. I have no idea what I would do.
That situation is one that many of you have found yourselves in, over the past few months.
My husband and I have been home with our 5-year-old daughter every day since March 13th.
There’s no way I’m sending my kids to school.
I miss our daycare so much.
There’s been a lot of stress.
It looks like I won’t have childcare again until November.
I had to make the difficult decision of quitting my job to stay home with my son.
Everyone’s trying to figure out childcare.
We asked you about what childcare looks like for you right now. We heard from many of you about pulling kids out of daycare… struggling with virtual schooling… and trying to juggle working from home while being a caregiver.
I’m trying to work and give my kids a somewhat enjoyable summer.
But they are super bored.
You know, I chose to have these children and now I can’t seem to take care of them.
Homeschool is not on my bucket list. I am not excited about this.
We’re running into bandwidth issues. There’s computer issues.
I go back and forth between loving how bonded I am with my children these days, but I also feel just this desire to run far, far away.
Childcare in America right now is a mess. We heard this from parents. And we heard it from childcare providers, too.
Across the country, childcare centers that were shut down during the early days of the pandemic have mostly been allowed to reopen. But childcare centers, already operating on razor-thin margins before the pandemic, are now dealing with a whole slew of new challenges. And as a result, many of them are barely hanging on.
[SOUND OF LESELY CRAWFORD AT DAYCARE CENTER: "All right friends. Make sure you’re sharing."]
Lesely Crawford runs two 24-hour daycare centers called ABK Learning and Development in Pittsburgh. That’s where Colton, Cara Moody’s five-year-old son, goes when Cara’s working her evening shift. Kids there range in age from six weeks up through school age.
LC: It’s a - it’s a beautiful kind of a chaos.
AS: Mmhm. [Laughs]
LC: Little babies are on a floor doing their little circle time. You got the young toddlers playing with their blocks that they love. Um, and then you have the preschoolers who are going through their rituals of saying their letters and their sounds and going through the calendar and this that and the other, and different things like that. So it's like a hodgepodge of craziness, it seems like, but it's so awesome when we have the whole space filled with everybody.
AS: And just so I can picture it, the space where the kids sleep at one of your centers, what does it look like? What do the kids sleep on?
LC: They sleep on cots. They all have their own individualized cots, they all have their own sheets and blankets that they sleep on. Um, and we sleep right in the space. So it's a nice little mellow thing. We always have our music playing for the kids. I love ocean sounds.
A national survey this summer found that at childcare centers across the U.S., enrollment is down 67%. Lesely's daycare centers are operating at less than half of the capacity that they normally do.
One of Lesely's two daycare centers is located in a public housing complex. Some of her kids’ families live there, some don’t, but nearly all of the kids who are coming to daycare today have parents who are essential workers.
LC: They kept the kids home for a little bit and then they were like, yeah, slowly but surely it was like, "Okay, we kept them home, but we don't think we can do it." Like the one mom she's a nurse and she travels. She has to go and see her patients. And the one mom was trying to take the baby to the office and, and that wasn't a good thing, you know, because she was concerned about exposure or just being around other people and so, it was just kind of crazy.
AS: And I understand - so you closed one of your centers, but kept the other open throughout?
LC: Right. We were mandated to close. And then the governor came through and said, okay, we can have this, um, waiver in order to open for essential workers.
AS: I see.
LC: So we closed the one, we closed the bigger one because we didn't think it would be that many kids. And it wasn't, there weren’t that many. Probably like about five kids.
AS: Hm. When did you notice your revenue drop off? The amount of money coming in?
LC: Oh, God. You notice that immediately. You know, the monies that you would automatically have coming in. 'Cause we have a lot of private paying clients - that money dissipates immediately because they pay on a weekly, monthly basis. So if they're not in the facility, then they're not paying monies. So you're talking about, that's a 50% drop right there. That was a huge chunk of money.
Lesely told her families they didn’t have to pay if they were keeping their kids home this spring, but she says she kept her whole staff on payroll... eight childcare workers in addition to herself and her husband, Fred. What helped keep them afloat initially were childcare subsidies they got from the state for low-income families they serve, and a small business PPP loan from the government.
LC: It didn't last long. It was like about eight weeks. It was a blessing, but then again a curse. And I hate to say that, but it was.
AS: So the PPP loan, they say, we're going to give you this money on the condition that you keep everybody employed, you do that with that money. And then you have to have a series of hard conversations about who you can keep affording and whether they want to come back when there's a pandemic happening.
LC: Right. And nobody wanted to come back. Um, and you know, and then, and they really don't want to come back when they know that, you know, unemployment is there and they can get an extra whatever. People really don't want to come back because they maximize far more on that than they would if they work for you. Um.
AS: If you mind sharing, like what are the wages that people make when they work in one of your centers?
LC: Um, so we start everybody, like at 10. $10 an hour. And so they go from that up.
AS: Uh huh.
LC: It's hard for us - you know, childcare was already struggling prior to COVID to find quality staff that wanted to work in the centers. Not just myself. These are my colleagues across this nation that, you know, childcare workers, you know, are hard to find. So it's even exacerbated now with the pandemic. And then, you know, people in this field are not paid enough money and there's a lot of, there's a lot of underlying things that go with it.
AS: I don't run a business. So tell me if this is a naive question. But I'm wondering, you know, when you're trying to hire right now and people who are looking at job opportunities are, you know, maybe thinking about whether it's a public health risk or what, what level of risk comes with it and, and whether the pay is enough. You know, are you, are you in a position to just to raise wages, to try to attract different workers?
LC: We are - that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to see how -- well, first of all, we're trying to make sure that we can pay the people that we already have here. Raise their wages so that we keep them shored up. Um, but then trying to just increase that for - but then you have to look at finances as well. You got to look at your bottom line, like, you know, do you have that resource that you could add? You know what I mean? Don't know how well you can do that right now when you're working on, you know, not even getting a huge portion of the money that you would normally be getting.
AS: Yeah. So your revenue is down. Your ability to bring in more revenue is restricted by whether you can get more workers.
AS: You have to have a certain ratio.
LC: Yep. I mean, I have open spaces. But, I may not have the staff to accommodate it. You can only take what you can take. You can't take more people in than you got more people to cover.
AS: But you're not sure you have the money to pay wages that will attract new employees.
LC: Exactly. Exactly. So you're between a rock and a hard place at this point. You know, how do you, you know, get around that? Don't know.
AS: And I want to go back, before COVID um, were you making money?
LC: Oh my God. We were in a good position. You know what I'm saying? We were really in a good place. We, you know, were able to pay our employees. We still had a nice little nest egg over here that we, you know what I mean? So we were doing okay. Um, then it's like, now the nest egg, you have to pinch off and pull from, and this, that, and the other. And so you see that dwindle, and you know, you dread looking at your bank account and your bank statements, because what you saw before you don't see anymore. And it's slowly, you know, being eaten up by all the things that you still have to do.
AS: Can I ask how old you are, Lesely?
LC: Now I'm either 54 or 55. One of the two.
LC: I think I'm 55. I think I just turned 55 this year.
AS: 55! You turned 55 during a chaotic time. So maybe it just like blew past you. You didn't quite register it.
LC: You know what? My kids call me up every year and say, they tell me how old I am. And I was like, good, y'all keeping track. 'Cause I stopped. Um, you know, I said, I know I'm getting older. 'Cause my knees hurt more.
AS: Mmhm. Now Lesely, for you, I mean, you have this job of both running a business and providing this essential service for families, for workers who were going in and taking care of people in hospitals, trying to do other kinds of work. Did you get to have a minute to say like, do I feel safe and healthy myself continuing to go into work? When I know these kids are, you know, potentially being exposed, if their parents are in health care environments?
LC: Yeah, I did because we were home - we closed down for like a week and at first it was just like terror. You know what I mean? And I'm still a little hyper paranoid. My husband told me I need to like, bring it down just a little bit, because I'm still like, um, scared about a whole lot of different things. And I'm more scared for everybody else. Not so much me. So I'm more concerned about the kids getting sick or the families getting sick, then I'm thinking about, oh, I'm going to get sick. So that's, that's my main - the main thing I worry about all the time. And thinking, how can we keep everybody safe? I, I don't know what, I went in that center, we did so much stuff. And my husband's like, please don't buy anything else. I'm like, no, everybody got put on shoe covers. Everybody gotta wear jackets over. Everybody's getting their temperatures. I got about 50,000 thermometers, like, and he's like, you can't buy more. You know, all kinds of cleaners, just everything. So just over, over - overboard, you know, the stress of everything, trying to keep everybody safe and not just - the kids, the staff, myself, my husband. It's something that I've had conversations with my husband about like, I don’t know if - just thinking about quitting, just letting it go, um, and just being at home because it would be safer.
AS: How often do you think about that? About what it would be like to not have to run these businesses?
LC: Oh my God. I do think about it often and it, I, I agonize about it all the time. You know what I mean? I say, what would I do? Like how, you know what I mean? And I - I don't know what we're gonna do, if we can't sustain, if we can't maintain, I don't know what we would do. We would have to close the doors. And that is the most agonizing thing ever.
AS: At this point, if, if the situation that we're in right now continues on without change, how long do you think you'll be able to last - hang on?
LC: I would give us another six to eight months truthfully. And that’s being - and that might be, I'm really giving it like six to eight months. We probably would exhaust -- you know, September is going to be the indicator of how severe things will be. Um, and so I'm like, I'm dreading September, but I'm also looking forward to it because then that way we'll know exactly what we need to do and how we can either we either gonna recover or we’re gonna be putting some plans in place. But it will definitely be a real harsh reality in September.
Coming up, I talk more with Cara Moody, the mom and restaurant worker whose son started going to Lesely’s daycare when Cara suddenly had to parent on her own.
CM: It was a mess. You know, being a mom by myself, doing this alone, like, how am I going to do this? And of course you have friends saying, "We're here. I can help you." But you know, those, those people are only available for a short period of time.
The challenges that Lesely is facing in Pittsburgh are ones that many childcare providers are grappling with around the country.
KATIE HAMM: So we have childcare providers who are facing increased costs, and they have less revenue because there are fewer children due to some of the health and safety and social distancing, but also because some parents don’t really want to send their children yet.
This is Katie Hamm. She works in early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress, in Washington, D.C. She says a recent survey asked providers how long they think they can stay open, if their enrollment continues to stay low, and there’s no additional government funding to fill in gaps.
KH: If there isn’t relief from Congress, a year from now 80% of childcare providers would close.
Yes, she did just say … 80. Percent.
KH: Childcare workers are disproportionately women of color. And I think that's significant as we think about, um, you know, who is deemed worthy of a rescue package. I feel like the childcare providers have been invisible and they're doing this Herculean service by caring for the children of nurses and doctors and grocery store workers. And I hope that we start to see that childcare is a public good.
This election season, Republicans and Democrats are talking about trying to shore up America’s childcare infrastructure. Joe Biden’s campaign is proposing $775 billion dollar program to fund caregiving of all kinds. And in her speech at the Republican convention, Ivanka Trump touted the Trump administration’s increased funding for childcare for low-income families...but child advocates point out that right now, the administration is proposing to cut other funding that supports childcare in America.
Meanwhile, in Congress, a 50 billion dollar childcare bailout bill that was passed in the House this summer...is stalled out in the Senate.
This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
Cara Moody has been sending her son, Colton, to daycare for two years now. Before that, she and her fiance, Dennis, shared childcare duties.
CM: Dennis worked during the day as a bike mechanic. Um, and he would come home and I would get in the car and go to work. And that way we didn't have to have the expense of daycare.
But in the spring of 2018, Dennis died unexpectedly. He’d had a bad cold that turned into pneumonia. And after Cara took him to the hospital, he took a turn for the worse.
CM: I guess he, what the doctors had told me is he started coughing up blood. And so they had to do emergency surgery and put the tracheotomy in. It then turned sepsis, which, um, is poison in the blood. So that's ultimately how he died, was the sepsis shock to his body. But I left that night, leaving the hospital, you know, carrying Colton. And, you know, Colton was like, "Where's daddy? Where is - why isn't daddy coming with us?" And I said, you know, at that point I didn't realize how sick Dennis was. I thought that it was just pneumonia and like, you know, I say, “just pneumonia,” but you know, people can recover from that. It was just so... shocking.
CM: And sudden. Like you didn't - I mean, we were definitely not planned for that. Like, you know what I mean? Like it's not something you ever plan for, but I know I never saw that coming. Like I was blindsided by that.
Three days after Dennis died, Cara found herself at another crisis point when she started wondering what she would do about childcare.
CM: I was at at a playground in the neighborhood, just crying, not knowing what I was going to do. 'Cause I worked evenings and weekends. All of Dennis's family's from LA. My mom passed away when I was young. My sister lives in Columbus. My dad lives about an hour away. And all of the daycares, everything that I've heard of, are, you know, six to six, they're not anything off-hours. And then, you know, you think about having in-home care -- I couldn't afford that. You know, that's really expensive. Even just having a babysitter come for a couple of hours is expensive and unreliable.
CM: And uh, one of the neighborhood dads came up to me and had said, you know, what's wrong? Are you okay? And I told him what had happened. And he knew, he knew where I work and everything. Um, he just gave me, he said, you need to contact ABK. Miss Lesely. They're fantastic people. And so I called immediately. I called the next day.
AS: Did you know that dad?
CM: Um, I did. Yeah. Colton's played with his son several times before. I mean, I don't know him well, I just know him at the playground.
AS: Yeah. That's really, I have two little kids, so I have a lot of those sort of like surface playground friends. So I find it very moving that you were able to sort of have somebody step up for you in that way. Um, someone you usually just sit and look at swings together with, you know? [Laughs]
CM: Right. Yeah.
AS: Tell me now, how often is Colton going into daycare?
CM: Well, he used to go three days a week, sometimes four. Um, but since the pandemic, he's now just going two days. Um, that's all my job has to offer me right now. So I'm just very part time. Um, but he goes every Thursday and Saturday. And I pick him up around 11, 11:30.
AS: And for you, how has coronavirus affected your family's budget?
CM: Well, I mean, I'm still capable of paying all my bills, but you know, there's definitely not any extra in any way, but then again, we're not going anywhere, doing anything. So I mean, it's definitely a more, more stressful time just because my job, I'm only offered two days a week. People have seemed to be generous, like customers have been a little bit extra generous. Some people don't know, they don't realize that, you know, servers make $2.83 an hour. They don't, they don't like pay attention to the fact that like, you know, we might be making less, and we're doing a lot of work in order to do takeout, but, um, most people do realize.
AS: So you make two dollars and 83 as your base pay an hour?
CM: Yes. Mmhm. $2.83 an hour.
AS: That's not very much. [Laughs]
CM: It’s nothing! [Laughs] I know. And now I'm also like a police officer because, because like I have to police people into wearing their masks. I'm like, I'm not getting paid enough to tell you to have to wear a mask. So yeah, my, my job is, yeah.
[COLTON: "What are you laughing at?"]
CM: Uh, we just made a joke. We just made a joke, Colton. [Laughs]
COVID cases in Cara’s county are currently on the decline. But restaurants in Pennsylvania can still only operate their indoor dining at 25% of their normal capacity.
After Cara and the rest of the restaurant staff were laid off at the start of the pandemic, Cara got unemployment benefits. And she’s still getting partial unemployment, for the hours she hasn’t gotten back at work. That’s helping her pay her bills, in addition to Dennis’s Social Security survivors benefits that she gets for Colton. Cara says that goes right to paying for Colton’s daycare.
CM: I basically pay $40 a day.
AS: Uh huh. Do you talk directly about money with Ms. Lesely? Is that something that you all talk about when you're like kind of catching up?
CM: No, no, we never talk financial anything. Um, I feel like I'm - what, what I'm paying is pretty reasonable. I mean, it's pretty low for - I know that other daycares maybe are a little bit more expensive. Um, so I'm just happy with the rate that I'm paying, because I am able to make my ends meet.
AS: The reason I'm asking you a lot of financial questions is, um, when I talked with Lesely, we were talking about just the finances of her business and running it right now. Um, and one of the challenges she talked about was the difficulty of getting in more staff. That she needs more staff for to, to, in order to have the, the ratio that's required of staff to kids. It made me wonder like, if Lesely were to say to you, you know what, I've got to pay more an hour to get workers in here. Like, is that something you could do? Could you pay more for childcare?
CM: I mean, I would be struggling a lot more if I did have to pay more. I mean, right now I'm basically paycheck to paycheck. I mean, even before the pandemic, I was paycheck to paycheck. Yeah, just...it's a financial ruin.
AS: Yeah. You know, it sounds like, it sounds like Colton started going to his, his daycare when, when he was, he was in a fragile place. He was absorbing a lot of change in his life. Um, what's it meant for him to have that place to go?
CM: It's a security, like a security blanket. He's comfortable there. He's happy going there. I mean, Fred does funny things, like whenever we would drop him off, like, um, he'd answer - you ring the bell and he would answer, and say, "We're not here! Who's there? Colton!" Like he always just plays a joke on Colton or something funny. Um, and Leslie's always very welcoming, like, "Come on, let's go, come on in!" But you know, he cried every single day going there. Um, he would be - Colton would be crying hysterically. "I don't want to go, I don't want to go." And I would be crying hysterically.
CM: So we just cried a lot going there and it just, you know, and he, they made him, they made Colton feel comfortable being there. Now he's happy going there. It feels more than just a daycare. Fred and Lesely, they treat everyone like a family.
Back at the daycare, Lesely tells me, she’s still unsure about the future. She’s applying for small business grants through the state of Pennsylvania. The number of kids coming to daycare is still low, but there is interest from a few new families.
AS: Are you trying to hire anybody right now?
LC: Yeah! [Laughs] Yes! We got a virtual hiring event coming up just this weekend, just trying everything.
AS: When you open up your bank statements and look at the money and the numbers, is that something you do by yourself? Or is there somebody else that you talk it over with?
LC: No, that's something - I, I talk to, me and my husband - basically, I look at the statements. I'm just a better money manager. Um, don't tell him I said that, but. But, I look at it and I cringe and I just say, oh my God. And then, you know, he may see it completely different than I do. You know what I'm saying? So the way we perceive things - to me, everything is grave. We're on our last leg. We're at the bottom of the barrel right now. We ain't gonna survive. We gotta come up with some resources. This is my mind frame. And he, on the other hand is like, babe, we're fine. We're okay. We'll readjust. So he comes from a different place.
LC: I would lie if I said I didn't wake up some mornings anxious or in tears or, you know what I mean? Or find myself at home in tears, thinking about what could potentially be of, you know, everything. 'Cause that would be a lie.
AS: Are you finding that you need to work more hours at the centers during this time?
LC: I’ve always I've always worked more hours. I work about a hundred some hours a week.
AS: That's a lot of hours.
LC: Yes. Every week, every week. And I would not change it for anything in the world. 'Cause I'm like, my kids are grown. There's, there's just no one but me and my husband, we don't have any, we got a grand baby, but we don't see him every day. But, um, the work is the thing that keeps me, um, it keeps me on, on point.
AS: You just said, I wouldn't change it for the world. And before that you told me, you think about quitting.
LC: Yeah. I know. Isn't that crazy? I think about quitting, but I wouldn't change it for the world. I think about, I do think about quitting. 'Cause I'm like this isn't going to work. It's not going to work. We're not going to have the staff. We're not going to have the kids. But every day I'm here, I'm like, I wouldn't change it for the world. I just have to keep coming until we've exhausted everything and we definitely have to shut the door. And I think a part of it is just the reality of knowing that I could potentially lose it. So if I say I don't want it, then that makes it okay.
AS: I see.
LC: I don't know if that makes sense to you.
AS: No, it does.
LC: It's like, I don't want to lose it. So if I'm constantly saying, yeah, I want to close. I want to close. Then if it closes, then I can say, see! That's what I wanted it to do. Now, is that genuinely, is that my heart? No! But that's my mind, because I've feared that I might have to close it.
LC: I pray to not have to close it. I'm doing everything so I don't have to close it. But I keep saying, yeah, I think we should just go ahead and close just because - you know what I mean? So I don't know if that makes sense, but, that's where I'm at.
That’s Lesely Crawford. She and her husband did manage to hire one new employee since we spoke. And she's hopeful that a few more families might come back to daycare this fall.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. I’m usually based at the studios of the investigative podcast Reveal in Emeryville, California. Katie Bishop produced this episode. The rest of our team includes Anabel Bacon, Afi Yellow-Duke, Emily Botein, and Andrew Dunn.
The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
I’m on Twitter @annasale, the show is @deathsexmoney on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
And thanks to Carlita Johnson in Brooklyn, New York, who is a sustaining member of Death, Sex & Money. Join Carlita and support what we do here by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate.
AS: If you think about what would happen if you had to tell your families, we can’t do this. We’re closing our doors. What would happen to those kids and those families?
LC: I don't even want to think about that. Half of my families think I'm keeping their kids until they're 18. [Laughs]
I’m Anna Sale, and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.