The American Childcare Tragedy

Carolyn Bertolino
Feb 16, 2020 · 5 min read

If this country cared about its children, we’d have taxpayer funded childcare.

Photo by Rafaela Biazi on Unsplash

We hear about college tuition loan forgiveness all the time on the campaign trail. But another issue that is, or should be, equally important to young people, is child-care. I’m well past the child-rearing stage of my life, but since child-care now costs more than college tuition in 28 states, it’s obvious to me that this is an economic issue that will affect all of us one way or the other. It’s also a social issue, since most people can’t afford the quality care that kids in most other first-world country get. It’s a national moral problem when a first-world country can’t be bothered to invest in the well-being of its most vulnerable members.

I paid for expensive day-care at a licensed daycare center for my daughter out of my own pocket and don’t regret a penny of it; from what I remember it was more than $600.00 per month when she was in infant, 22 years ago. It was nice to know there was a guaranteed number of staff per child, they were always open, and the center was held to high standards. I’m grateful that I had the money to do it. A lot of people aren’t so lucky however, especially now, as regular workers have less and less disposable income. In fact, the average cost of daycare is now between $9000 and $9600 per year. The average percentage of income spent on childcare in the US is 25.6 for couples and 52.7 for single parents. Imagine trying to afford a place to live and all your other living expenses on top of that!

Why aren’t candidates for office at all levels, state, local, and national. talking more about this? Forget for a minute the fact that quality care helps a child prepare for school and studies show that children who went to preschool perform better; let’s talk about all the children who get left with a woman’s unemployed boyfriend because she can’t afford daycare. Or the kids who get left with the neighbor lady who will watch them for $20.00 per day while she does her housework at best or drinks and does drugs at worst.

At first glance it might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s reality. Does anyone really think a single parent making $15.00 per hour can afford to send her child or children to a quality daycare center, considering the prices quoted in that earlier paragraph? No. Those kids are either staying home with the unemployed boyfriend, being babysat by the distracted neighbor for the wage the parent can afford, or staying with grandparents who shouldn’t have to shoulder the 50-hour-per-week burden at this stage of their lives. No other first world country forces its citizens to live like that.

Lack of affordable childcare causes trauma for children, even if their caregivers are good people. Yes, the US still has the Head Start program; free preschool for low-income people, but what do you do if you can’t afford someone to come pick up your child afterwards? Preschool doesn’t last as long as the working day. Single parent Stephanie Land had to get creative to find childcare for her daughter, while she took classes and worked several part-time jobs to equal fulltime hours. She cleaned at a preschool in place of tuition (a lucky break that most people don’t get) and a roommate who watched her daughter for a rent reduction. After preschool, her daughter would go home with different friends depending on the day. Imagine having to keep track of that kind of a schedule. And inevitably, with that kind of variation, there will be a time when something won’t go as planned. This complicated mess of a daycare schedule isn’t good for parent or child. It causes stress for the parent, which in turn can transfer anxiety to the child, as well as cause the child to become prematurely independent.

This past year, Democratic presidential candidates and members of congress have come up with ideas to ease the childcare burden. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan would give free daycare to families within 200% of poverty level while limiting everyone’s cost to 7% of their income. Local communities would run the provider network but it would be held to high standards and partner with the federal government. Other candidates- Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, and (former candidate) Cory Booker, are sponsoring a Senate bill that would cap daycare costs at 7% of a person’s resident state median income. Not surprisingly, there are no Republican plans at all on the issue.

Quebec, Canada has had low-cost childcare for 20 years. It costs about six dollars per day now, and that province has the highest number of working women in the world. Here in the US, women regularly miss out on career opportunities due to lack of childcare options.

In our country, there seems to be a resistance to funding for child care, even after the successful Latham Act, which paid for 3000 daycare centers to care for over 600,000 children while their mothers worked during World War 2. After the war, a lot of those mothers kept working even as they lost their child care subsidy. The problem might not have been so severe back then for many reasons. Part of it might have been that incomes were more able to handle the cost of living. Another reason could be that even though more women were working than before the war, the female employment rate was lower than today, so people had more options with homemaker relatives able to help out with childcare.

The bottom line is that there’s plenty of money in our national budget to pay for any of the proposed programs. Tax-payer funded daycare should not be considered a fringe issue, as it was in 2004 when Democratic presidential candidate and former OH governor Dennis Kucinich proposed funding universal Pre-K education by using 15% of the defense budget. In the 16 years since his first presidential run, I think a lot of people have learned how much wasteful spending goes on in that slice of the national fiscal pie.

There’s a lot of talk about helping seniors, and that’s well and good. But there’s enough money to go around if some was shuffled out of defense contractors’ pockets, and even more if we would reverse the Republicans’ 2017 tax cut for the top 1% of incomes. Seniors’ financial situations are getting a little bleaker under Trumpism to be sure, just like all of us in the bottom 99%, but their financial stagnation doesn’t seem to be as extreme as young people’s. Considering that Social Security benefits keep increasing every year for people already receiving them while we under age 59 have to wait until 67 to collect what current seniors started getting at 65 or 66, in addition to minimum wage not having been adjusted since 2009, I think seniors are doing pretty well compared with the rest of us.

If Richard Nixon (R) hadn’t vetoed the universal childcare bill congress passed in 1971, we’d already have the benefits of a program similar to what a lot of other countries have. Let’s quit letting kids and their parents pay the price, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and financially just to sustain rich people’s and corporate tax cuts. It’s time for tax-payer funded daycare.

The Polis

Carolyn Bertolino

Written by

A woman who likes to read and write about personal well-being and national issues. fitnesstokeep.wordpress.com

The Polis

The Polis

Thought-provoking articles on politics, philosophy, and policy

Carolyn Bertolino

Written by

A woman who likes to read and write about personal well-being and national issues. fitnesstokeep.wordpress.com

The Polis

The Polis

Thought-provoking articles on politics, philosophy, and policy

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