The economic recovery has no chance to succeed until schools and daycare centers for younger children re-open. This week kids in elementary school up to third grade will return to their classroom at least a few days a week, but early childhood centers are still close and will not re-open until the middle of May if at all.
The re-opening of daycare centers for the youngest children is crucial for the restart of the economy. Without childcare arrangements, many Israelis parents (especially women) cannot go back to work. According to a report of the Bank of Israel, 400,000 Israelis are forced to stay home because they have children under the age of nine, costing the economy 2.6 billion shekels a week. Before this health crisis, approximately 65% of children aged three months to three years attended daycare facilities, and another 35% were cared for by family members. As the economy re-opens, parents need reliable childcare; grandparents cannot help, and the daycare facilities will only receive half of the children, reducing the supply of early childhood education by more than half.
The organization for private daycare announced that under the current regulations, most of them would not be able to re-open. As of now, already 500 daycare centers closed as a consequence of the lockdown, affecting 3,000 children. Among the businesses that survived until now, many doubt they will be able to withstand the strict restrictions imposed on them at re-opening. As of now, some rules are not only costly; they are impossible to implement even with the full goodwill of the educators. How can a caregiver keep a two meters distance from babies and toddlers? Rightly so, educators are demanding a total relaxation of mandatory distancing and other unpractical rules, such as forcing two years old to wear a mask or preventing children from playing with each other.
Even if the government softens, some of the most extreme and unpractical rulings; the limitation on the number of children permitted on the premises will likely remain. A daycare center that, until a few months ago accommodated 15 children, will only be allowed to receive seven on a given day. Fewer children attending, still more costs for cleaning and other health-related supplies endanger the profitability of many private daycare centers. Excessive regulation will inflate the price of child care and lead to less labor force participation, as many parents find it economically worthwhile to stop working, especially among the lowest wage earners.
Instead of having the bureaucrats write a code of new unrealistic regulations that will ultimately strangle the early childhood sector, the regulator needs to cut the red tape for private businesses and parent associations to open new facilities. The government needs to trust the parents and let them decide the level of risk they are willing to take with their daycare provider. It is easy to imagine that families with high-risk members will try to organize “safer” daycare compared to families with less contact with the high-risk populations. Instead of trying to centralize all decisions at the government level, it is time to give back some independence and responsibility to every adult citizen and let the parents define how the post corona reality will look like for their children.
Israelis have shown exceptional solidarity, care, and common sense in this crisis; the government needs now to back off and trust its citizens to continue forward and restart the economy without excessive regulatory burdens. If regulation makes it impossible for young parents to find suitable daycare for their children, the chance of economic recovery becomes slimmer every day.