By Shelley Mitchell and Ginny Hatfield
AAUW California Public Policy Committee
“It’s past time that we treat childcare as what it is – an element whose contribution to economic growth is as essential as infrastructure or energy…and the single most important thing we can do to build a stronger economy over the next several decades,” says Janet Yellen, the former Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank and now Secretary of the Treasury.
The state of U.S. childcare is deplorable compared with other developed nations, especially with respect to affordability. This fact has been brought home to us ever more vividly during the current pandemic. Women, who still bear the majority of childcaring, have left the workforce in the millions due to the absence of basic childcare services and the cost associated with it.
Here are some sobering statistics:
- 56% of married families with children under 6 consist of households where both parents work
- The employment rate for single mothers raising a young child is 65%; it’s 83% for single fathers who maintain custody
- The average American family with at least one child under 5 uses 13% of their income to pay for childcare
- Less than 20% of children eligible for a low-income federal assistance program are getting the funding
- 50% of Americans live in childcare “deserts” or areas where there are three children per every childcare opening
- In 24 states the average cost for infant full-time daycare exceeds the average cost of rent
- 97% of childcare providers are women, who are disproportionally women of color, making less than a living wage with no guaranteed benefits. In the US, the mean hourly wage for childcare workers is $12.88, nearly $3.00 less per hour than parking lot attendants, and $5.00 less per hour than dog groomers.
This is a textbook example of a broken market, whereby the benefits of providing a service (in this case childcare) are not included in its overall value. Are our children really less important than our cars and dogs?
The consequences of not investing in quality childcare should have most Americans demanding action from their government leaders. Neglecting the care of young children is detrimental to their physical and mental wellbeing; it reduces productivity in the workforce; leads to lost wages and reduced retirement benefits for parents; it adds to the downward pressure on childcare workers, which in turn, impacts the quality and stability of childcare; and restricts future educational opportunities for family members.
There is hope on the horizon! The Build Back Better Act, now awaiting action by the Senate would provide universal preschool with high-quality childcare for 3- and 4-year-olds; increase wages for early childhood educators; upgrade existing childcare facilities, especially in high-need areas; and provide a sliding scale whereby parents would pay a reasonable percentage of their overall income to childcare costs.
Whether the legislation is included in the Reconciliation bill or taken up as a stand-alone bill, it deserves passage and your support. Childcare relief remains the top priority of AAUW California this year. Please be sure to contact your Senator and let them know of your AAUW membership and your commitment to ensuring our Nation’s future.
AAUW is calling on the 117th Congress to ensure that a permanent paid leave program, childcare funding and the Child Tax Credit are included in the budget reconciliation process.
To find our more or to contact your senators, click HERE.