Over the weekend, media and digital brand holding company IAC announced that it had agreed to buy Care.com, which describes itself as “the world’s largest online family care platform,” in a deal valued at about $500 million. Despite being the best-known marketplace in the United States for finding child and senior caregivers, Care.com has spent the past nine months dealing with the fallout from a Wall Street Journal investigative article that detailed potentially dangerous gaps in its vetting process. The company’s issues not only highlight the problems with scaling a marketplace created to find caregivers for the most vulnerable members of society, but also the United States’ childcare crisis.
Childcare in the United States is weighed down with many issues and arguably no one platform can fix it, no matter how large or well-known. Over the past year and a half, however, several startups dedicated to fixing specific challenges have raised funding, including Wonderschool, Kinside and Winnie.
IAC and Care.com’s announcement came at the end of a year when more media attention has been paid to the difficulties American parents face in finding and affording childcare, and how that contributes to gender disparities, falling birthrates and other social issues. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world without mandated paid parental leave and childcare is one of the biggest expenses for families. Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have made universal childcare part of their platform and business leaders like Alexis Ohanian are using their clout to advocate for better family leave policies.
But the issue has already created deep structural problems. From an economic perspective, a September 2018 study by ReadyNation and Council for a Strong America estimated that annually, the 11 million working parents in the United States lose a total of $37 billion in earnings because they lack adequate childcare. Businesses in turn lose a total of $13 billion a year as a result, while the impact on lower income and sales tax reduces tax revenues by $7 billion. Many parents change their career trajectories after they have children, even if they did not plan to. For example, a study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 43% of women and 23% of men in STEM change fields, switch to part-time work or leave the workforce.