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School is not childcare.

I am reading yet another article about OMG WHY AREN’T THESE PEOPLE GOING BACK TO WORK WHEN SCHOOLS ARE OPEN AGAIN.

Schools have reopened, the argument goes, so workers should now have their days free and be able to pursue full-time employment. So what’s the deal with all these slackers, lying about and not being productive? They’re holding the economy back and being too picky!

Whenever I read these sorts of pieces, with a bunch of economists and planners scratching their heads about “worker shortages,” I wonder if any of the people asking these questions have ever had kids in school.

I have two kids in school—one in elementary school, the other in middle school. The middle schooler has to be at school between 7:30 and 7:45 in the morning, and is dismissed between 2:00 and 2:10 in the afternoon. The younger kid has to be at school by 8:30 in the morning, and is dismissed between 2:45 and 3:00 in the afternoon. For elementary school kids, our local Recreation Department has an after-school program, but it is currently full and is accepting no more kids. There is no after-school programming for middle schoolers.

We are extremely fortunate in our situation. Both my partner and I work fully remote jobs, and have enough flexibility that, between the two of us, we will likely be able to cobble together some sort of weekly schedule for getting the kids to and from school. A lot of folks—the majority of families, I’d guess—are probably not so lucky.

How are people supposed to work full-time jobs while getting kids to and from school, especially with so much of schools’ schedules still seemingly premised upon the assumption that most households have a stay-at-home parent? And that does not even take into account the fact that many jobs these days are not full-time, and do not offer a regular, predictable weekly schedule.

So, no—just reopening schools is not going to magically fix all of these problems. People are not being lazy and staying home instead of running out to snap up all of these supposedly great jobs on offer. Treat employees like humans. Pay them well. Give them consistent, predictable, full-time schedules. And remember that they do not exist solely to fill your staffing needs; they have lives outside of work, and they have families, and those are probably more important to them than your business.

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