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How Much Do We Really Care for Children?

6

Last week’s policy briefings included one on the state of early education and child care programs in the US.  The number of spots available across the country is nowhere near the number of children that need to be looked after while their parents are at work.  For many families, if care can be located, it is hugely expensive.  As a result, a vast number of children are left with unregulated or uncertified caregivers, making little more than minimum wage, with no access to paid sick leave or employer-sponsored health insurance.  Some families turn to uncompensated family members, such as grandparents or other relatives, who may or may not welcome filling that role.  If that person, or a paid carer, gets sick or has to take time to attend to personal matters, the fragile care arrangment can quickly fall apart, leaving parents stranded.  Typically, a breakdown in child care logistics falls squarely into the mother’s lap. 

There are several reasons for this mess.  For one thing, the pervasive neglect of all matters pertaining primarily to women on the political level explains why the passing decades have seen no improvement. For another, unlike most other modern nations, the US leaves pre-school funding up to individual families.  Available resources are not equally distributed throughout society, so families will hire nannies or pony up a sum equal to a  year’s college tuiton for center-based care.  Others will write a check to the care provider as big or bigger than their monthly mortgage or rental payment.  Some will qualify for subsidies through public funding, but only 1 out of 6 eligible children will actually get the care they need through these programs for low income families.  If you imagine that all public schools in America were entirely paid for by the parents of the children that attend them, you’ll see how we’ve set up our current early education/child care system.  It’s ridiculous to expect that private funds alone can sustainably support quality care for pre-school age children.

Many Americans want to believe in hard work breeding success, competition resulting in economic vitality, and an unregulated market efficiently satisfying  the needs of consumers.  There’s significant evidence to the contrary, however.  The demand for health care goes unmet for about 50 million Americans.  Women’s superior education and equal work force penetration have yet to reward them with equal wages or workplace policies that align with their disproportionate caregiving responsibilities.  And the market has utterly failed to provide anywhere near the quantity of affordable, quality childcare that families demand.  So, parents (usually mothers) are sidelined from the workforce or working fewer hours in an attempt to provide care.  As a result, their economic security, and that of their household, is in peril.  The optimum opportunity to position a child for maximum development and school readiness is lost.  In the long run, society will pay far more for poorer health, poor educational outcomes, lower lifetime earnings, and greater social problems such as incarceration and early pregnancy.

You can watch a video of the briefing I attended right here.  Fast forward to 1 hour 19 minutes in to hear Your (Wo)Man in Washington challenge the panel with a provocative question on mothers’ rights.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington