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Workplace Absences Around the Nation High Due to Child Care Reasons

Tuesday, November 29th, 2022 -- 10:01 AM

(By Jenny Peek, Wisconsin Public Radio) Kristin Murphey's 2-year-old daughter Emma has been home sick just about every other week since September.

According to Jenny Peek with Wisconsin Public Radio, there have been colds, a full body rash, RSV with pneumonia and pneumonia without RSV. They've taken multiple trips to the pediatrician, and had one stint in the emergency department.

All the while, Murphey and her husband, who live in Madison, have tried to keep working, sneaking tasks in during naptime and at odd hours. But as Murphey says, "working remotely with a 2-year-old is not actually a thing." For the days when multitasking isn't an option, they've relied on sick time.

Their experience is one caregivers across the nation are dealing with right now. Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows workplace absences for child care reasons rose to an all-time high in October.

The reasons are twofold. This year's respiratory illness season came early and strong with RSV and influenza sending waves of kids home from day care and school. Cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus in particular have skyrocketed.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RSV cases have already reached peak levels from 2021. And the number of cases tripled in the last two months, Axios reports.

In Wisconsin, the state Department of Health Service counted 2,273 cases of RSV from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5 alone. It's also a time when child care facilities are facing widespread worker shortages, leaving parents scrambling to find care.

And the continued circulation of COVID-19 has put additional pressure on schools and day cares. But caregivers don't have a choice. When a kid is sick, or a day care shuts down due to illnesses, they have to stay home.

"It feels like I'm waiting for that call from day care to say, 'Ope, she has a fever, come pick her up,'" Murphey said. "We're just so exhausted," she continued. "We feel like we're always waiting for the next thing."

Another factor is that sick time and paid leave became a political rallying cry during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers encouraged workers to stay home when sick, and workplaces made their policies more flexible so people could take care of their families.

A 2021 national survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly four in 10 workers are employed somewhere that started offering or expanded paid leave benefits during the pandemic. Ongoing workforce shortages have also pushed employers to make changes to attract and retain workers.

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