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Mothers Snowed Under

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Would you believe me if I told you that a major snowstorm affects the lives of men and women differently? Could I convince you that there is a gender difference, even in the weather? Let me try.

In February, parts of the East Coast had a humongous snowstorm. Nobody could go anywhere for 5 days to a week. There was no paper delivery, no mail, no traffic, just heaps and heaps of snow. Everywhere. So, child care centers closed early, opened late, or just couldn’t operate. Parents couldn’t get out of their houses to go to work, so their children stayed home. Many who couldn’t make it to work didn’t get paid. Some parents resisted paying the usual fees, for care they didn’t use, or couldn’t get to, or that was offered for fewer hours. If the money didn’t come in, it couldn’t go out to the staff. Now, child care is not a business that generates significant income. It is regarded as “unskilled labor” and is performed mainly by women, which keep wages absurdly low. Most child care workers don’t have savings for a rainy, or a snowy, day. Most child care workers, or indeed most workers of any kind, simply can’t miss a couple of days of pay without some anxiety.

The outlines of the perilous state of child care were as clear as tracks in the snow. The cost of care is as high as the cost of the monthly mortgage payment or rent for many families. Providers operate on a shoestring. The fact that almost 50% of child care is done outside the licensing or supervision of any public authority shows that the expense for a child care center is just beyond a huge number of households. These children are with untrained staff in uninspected facilities without any set standards for background checks or safety. Care providers, in or out of a center, are among the poorest paid workers in our economy, earning significantly less per hour than those who fix our cars and unclog our pipes. So there is a total lack of high-quality, reliable child care when and where it is needed. If a mother can’t find good care where she is confident her children will be safe and looked after, how can she go to work? How will she feed her children if she doesn’t go to work? If she is laid off because of the recession, and pulled her child out of care to spare the expense, how can she look for work and accept a position if she can’t, at the same time, find child care again?

Most often, it’s mothers who have to sort out the work/child care fix, a daunting task under the best of circumstances. Most often, it’s women who are in the business of providing the child care, also a daunting task. As both the provider and consumer, women have much to gain by insisting on better pay for the work we do, better care for our children when we work, and better compensation for child care providers, in keeping with the our common social interest in the welfare of our children, and the realization of their potential.

You can read more about this topic in the Washington Post here