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It’s been nearly three decades since Adrienne Briggs first opened an early-childhood education program complete with a science center, a reading corner and a math station on the first floor of her Tudor-style townhouse in North Philadelphia. In mid-March of last year, when 60-year-old Briggs had to close shop because of the coronavirus pandemic, the tenuous nature of the business she spent nearly half her life building began to sink in.

“Quite a few providers have been having this conversation of an exit plan,” said Briggs, who said she nets $25,000 a year from her business. “And realizing that if we had to depend solely on Social Security from what we’ve been making, we would never make it.”

Briggs, who has a master’s degree in early-childhood education, said she isn’t in child care for the money but because she loves the children she cares for, many of whom have grown up and brought their own children back to her program. But since reopening, only four of the six children who frequented her program have come back, she said.

And now that she’s getting close to retirement age, in addition to dealing with a global pandemic that has devastated her field, the uncertainty is beginning to weigh on her. “It’s different than being in a business or a job for two years, and you still have 20-some years ahead of you that you can switch over,” Briggs said.

For home-based workers who don’t have the benefits associated with working for a larger center — and especially for workers getting closer to retirement age — the pandemic has been particularly crushing, experts say.

“Because they have worked in a field where they’ve been so grossly undercompensated forever, they don’t have savings or retirement, and so they’re in a pretty precarious situation that covid has only made worse,” said Natalie Renew, director of Home Grown, a nonprofit focused on home-based child-care centers. “They mostly continue to operate with less revenue, increased expenses and a lot of risk and uncertainty.”