child care

The Child Care Challenge

According to a Pew Research Center report, “Child care is a major concern for parents with children who are not yet school age. A majority of parents with one or more children younger than 6 say it’s hard to find high-quality, affordable child care in their community.” This concern traversed all socio-economic, race and gender delineations. Single parents and low-income parents, who are sometimes one and the same, had even higher levels of concern and frustration regarding affordable, high-quality child care for children under the age of 6.

None of this is news to anyone who has ever tried to find child care for a child under 6. And if you’ve ever tried to find care for a baby or a child that is not potty trained, the level of frustration and cost of care skyrockets. With wages what they are, stagnant for most and shockingly unfair for many (Latinx women earn 53 cents for every dollar a white man makes), child care costs can push women out of the workforce. Especially if a second child comes along.

Why are women the ones often pushed out of the workforce? When women perform the same jobs as men, they tend to be paid less than men. Women are also pointed toward and hired into fields that traditionally pay less than fields that employ men (construction vs cashier). If in a heterosexual couple the man makes 53k a year and the woman makes 28k, guess who’s staying home? And for every month and year she stays out of the paid workforce, the gap in her resume grows and grows, making it harder and harder for her to find a good quality job when the last of the kids finally go to elementary school. And if like many of the schools around here kindergarten is only 4 hours, she has to wait until the last child goes to 1st grade. And even then there is the gap between when a child’s day ends and when the traditional workday ends.

With all the hand wringing around the falling birthrate in America, one would think someone in government might realize that the stress, frustration, and heartache around quality childcare might be a pretty big contributing factor.

And then, if one finds childcare there can be all kinds of problems. I found childcare for my younger son that was affordable, had extended hours and FED THEM BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND SNACK! Anyone who has ever pleaded, nagged and cried their way through a time-constrained breakfast with a toddler and cleaned out a grotty lunch box five days a week for years knows why I was so thrilled.

There was only one pretty big snag. The childcare was through a local church and there were many religious components to the program. My family is without religion. I was concerned that there would be friction between what was taught at school and what he heard at home, but needs must. I had gotten a promotion at work that changed my schedule to weekdays from weekends and we really needed the money. So we enrolled him in the school and luckily he really didn’t understand what was happening. For awhile my younger son thought Jesus lived in New York City and when you died you went there and lived with him. My older son quickly adopted this theology, saying he hoped Jesus would provide him with a snug third floor walk-up with quiet neighbors and a reasonably chill co-op board.

We were very, very lucky. When I explained the theology swirling around my house, the director nearly hurt herself laughing. But what to do when the only quality, affordable child care teach ideals that clash with what’s taught at home? Many of my friends have had this problem. Some child cares include service requirements where parents must volunteer a certain number of hours per week in the class. Some of those parents have been a nightmare to deal with.

Anti-vaxx parents chiding children for the bandaids proclaiming they’d gotten a flu shot. Judgmental comments about the contents of a hastily packed lunchbox. Endless fundraisers, lists of required ‘donation’ items, and the general melee of drop-off.

It’s enough to send any sane woman screaming from the workforce. Hell isn’t always other people, sometimes it’s other parents.

New rule: keep your highly researched opinions to yourself. Nobody has time for it. Unless someone says the words, “What do you think,” keep all comments to the weather and how adorable everyone’s kids are, even if they are sniveling little bridge trolls. I can say this because I was a sniveling little bridge troll when I was a little kid.

No one has an easy, controversy free answer to the child care crunch in this country. For example, the second you start talking about extending local, state and federally funded schooling to every child from birth to college, everyone on either extreme of the political divide loses their minds. You know who you are so don’t even try to deny it.

But that leaves the millions of parents in the middle struggling with no end in sight. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking of only our children and begin to think of all the kids. They deserve better than the patchwork of care on offer in this country. This is just a staggering breakdown of 10 places in the country where childcare bills for center-based infant and four-year-old care will cost you the most.

I don’t want to end on a hopeless note. Here are two different ideas about how we can provide high-quality, affordable child care for all Americans who want it. Each is from a controversial figure from either end of the political spectrum.

President Trump’s 2020 budget has a request for a one time 1 billion investment in childcare programs that mostly push deregulating the business of childcare. The proposal is tied to border wall funding, which is in turn tied to the entire Trump border policy which is inhumane to say the least.

Senator Warren has a more comprehensive plan for childcare. Here is her Medium article explaining it. Basically any family that makes less than 200% of the federal poverty line would qualify for high quality child care at no cost to the family. And our nation reaps the benefits of having more children in high quality early childhood educational programs.

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