As more and more Americans work unconventional hours, who is looking after their kids? Pacific Standard takes a look into the growing industry of 24-hour daycare businesses, where children are dropped off and picked up around the clock. Well-paid professionals may be able to afford overnight nannies at home, but lower-paid employees cannot. Bedtime happens at the daycare center. With an ever-expanding workweek, the daily supervised sleepover is destined to become the new normal.
Alissa Quart’s Pacific Standard feature, with photographs by Alice Proujansky, is available to subscribers—in print or digital formats—now, and will be posted online in full on Monday, November 10. Until then, an excerpt:
In the garden of Dee’s Tots Childcare, amid the sunflowers, cornstalks, and plastic cars, a three-year-old girl with beads in her braids and a two-year-old blond boy are shimmying. These are Deloris Hogan’s 6:45 p.m. pick-ups. Nearby, also dancing, are four kids who won’t be picked up until late at night, as well as two “overnight babies,” as Deloris calls them. Dee’s Tots stays open 24 hours a day, seven days a week; the children’s parents work unconventional hours, producing an unexpected cycle of drop-offs and reunions. One afternoon in August, the kids bounce on the center’s inflatable castles, rustle around at the sand tables, and eat a watermelon snack. Then it gets dark.
By 8:30 p.m., three-year-old Naima is in her pink polka-dot pajamas. Little Ivette and her watchful older sister, Diana, lie down on thin mattresses laid over yoga mats. Even with the lights dimmed, you can make out the bright posters on the wall, the costumes and the boxes of dolls and baby clothes, and the fluttering rainbow curtain dividing one of the rooms from the other. Aladdin is playing in the background; the Genie riffs. Deloris changes two-year-old Kaden’s diaper; next, she’ll give one-year-old Noah a bath. Watching the bedtime endgame at what might be called “extreme daycare” can be fretful. I fear that even efficient, poised Deloris won’t be able to wash all the kids in time for bed, and that I’ll have to keep myself from herding her wards to the bathroom and to their pallets. What if the children turn into tear-stained goblins of exhaustion before Deloris gets them tucked in? How will she manage it?
The main room at Dee’s Tots looks like a supersized slumber party, but the truth is this is an ordinary day. Dee’s is only one of a number of 24-hour child care centers around the country. Just on this single block in New Rochelle, New York, there’s another facility, Little Blessings, that offers overnights as well. Little Blessings and Dee’s are in a nearly comic decoration-off, competing for kids with colored lights, giant Doras, and Spider-Men. Some round-the-clock centers play more toward parents, with aspirational names like Success Kidz 24 Hour Enrichment Center.
The growth of this industry makes sense: We now have an expanded workweek, often composed of unpredictable hours. Nearly 40 percent of Americans have non-standard work lives. (The average American adult also now works one and a quarter jobs.) Working people who live below the poverty line are particularly afraid to say no to these unusual schedules. They may have no one to say no to, anyway—those schedules might have been created by computers, rather than human managers, in the hopes of saving a corporation money. Many companies now use data and algorithms to schedule employees so fewer hours will be spent sitting around. The software doesn’t care if a shift falls in the middle of the night, or that it might tear a big hole in an employee’s family life.
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