The jobs report proves the obvious – working parents need schools to reopen. Now.

Remote learning parent getty
9-year-old Priscilla Guerrero uses a laptop computer for her 4th grade online class in her room as mom Sofia Quezada assists her. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
  • The jobs report showed hiring absolutely tanked in April, despite lofty expectations. Closed schools were a huge reason for the miss.
  • It’s tough to commit to a job when you don’t know if or when your child will be in school.
  • Open the schools, now. It will be a shot of adrenaline for the economy.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US only added 266,000 jobs in April, a huge drop off from the 770,000 the government reported in March, and miles below the one million new jobs that economists had forecast.

Let the hand-wringing begin.

Some economists blamed the miss on unemployment benefits that are “too generous” and disincentivizing people to go back to work, particularly for low-wage jobs. Others pointed to the fact that despite vaccines being available to everyone over 16, COVID is still very much a problem in the US, and workers could have justifiable safety concerns.

But for millions of Americans, there’s a simple reason they’re not working.

It’s the closed schools, stupid.

Fake “open” schools

Occam’s Razor, in layman’s terms, is the principle which holds that the simplest explanation is probably the correct one.

The reason so many working parents – especially women – haven’t returned to the job market is because there is nowhere for their kids to go during the day.

Unaffordable or unavailable childcare is always an issue in this country, which does very little to make life more bearable for new parents.

But the simplest explanation for why parents of young children aren’t going back to work remains the most likely: about half of US schools have not fully reopened.

It’s been 15 months since schools first locked down. And particularly in Democratic-run cities with politically-powerful teachers unions, there remains no guarantee that schools will open for full-time, in-person instruction with actual teachers in the classroom by September 2021.

Occam’s Razor would say that’s a likely factor in why so many parents “choose” to not go back to work.

And there is data to back this up. According to recent Census Bureau surveys, caring for children who weren’t in school or daycare was the third most-frequent reason given for not being employed – over 6 million people cited this reason. A child at home trailed only being retired and being sick or disabled as a reason for unemployment.

Despite this, some education journalists have pointed to a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics as an indication that “most” schools are, in fact, already open.

This requires a very generous reading of the numbers.

US News and World Report wrote, “Nearly 90% of schools offered some type of in-person learning in March.”

Sounds great, right?

But then there’s this caveat: “…that could mean anything from being open full time, five days a week for all students to operating on a hybrid schedule where students receive in-person instruction only one or two days per week.”

It’s hard to hold down a full-time job when you’re not sure which days your child will be in a school building. The series of oft-delayed brief reopenings and sudden reclosings don’t help with life-planning, either.

“In-person instruction” in many cases – including my kids’ in New York City – means remote learning, just in a school building. Some have taken to calling it “Zoom in a room.”

There are no teachers in the classrooms, and students cannot speak to each other or move around. They just sit, staring at their screens.

Unsurprisingly, many parents and students have opted out of the ridiculous charade.

End the cruel gaslighting, open the schools now.

The elephant in the room is, of course, teachers unions.

The most powerful of them have been able to influence CDC guidelines, defiantly resist ones they don’t like, and continuously move the goalposts to fully reopen that the pandemic will almost certainly be over by the time they agree to come back to work.

We’ve known since last fall that schools were among the safest public spaces during the pandemic. In areas where schools remained open – mostly in red states – there was no evidence schools were COVID hot spots. The same goes for private schools that stayed open in blue states – with basic safety precautions, teachers and students were at very little risk.

Now that vaccinations are widely available to all adults – and may be available to children within a matter of months – what was once indefensible is now unconscionable.

It’s also in direct opposition to the best interests of the public.

No one in their right mind wants the economy to recover from its pandemic-beating any slower than it has to. But people need to get back to work to make that happen.

Fully reopening schools, immediately, would provide a shot of adrenaline to the economy, as parents could freely pursue employment without feeling as though they’re abandoning their kids.

And then there’s the public benefit of a generation of students resuming their education and socialization – as well as freeing them from the primary cause of a youth mental health crisis.

Shame on the special interest lobbyists and craven politicians that refuse to put an end to this debacle.

Let working parents get back to work. Don’t force children to suffer needlessly for another single day. End the endless gaslighting.

Open the schools now.