The growing support for a national program of high-quality affordable child care has reached new levels in recent months as political figures, including several declared 2020 presidential candidates have endorsed it and placed it on their agendas for the coming campaign. A powerful impetus for a publicly funded program of early child care has come from its success in New York City since its inception in 2014 (see previous posting on our website: A Study in Success: New York’s Pre-School Program.)
An indication of the movement of this issue from
a back-burner wish-list item into the mainstream of American political life is the lead page one article in the Feb.10 Sunday Review section in the New York Times. The article by Katha Pollitt highlights the stark necessity for a national publicly funded program both from the point of view of working parents and the boon it would be to the national economy.
Among the points she makes:
“Child care is one of the biggest costs a family faces. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s state-by-state tables, in Alabama it’s $5,637 a year for an infant and an only slightly less daunting $4,871 for a 4-year-old. That’s 69 percent of the average rent and 33.7 percent less than the cost of in-state tuition at a four-year college…. West Virginia parents are worse off: For them, infant care, at $7,926, is 32 percent more than the cost of college. Pick a state at random and the results are no better. New York: $14,144, or double the cost of a year of college. Illinois: $12,964. California: $11,817. No wonder child care is affordable for only a small minority of families, meaning they pay 10 percent or less of their income for it.” She points out that families in Minnesota pay 17.8 percent of their income for child care, in Massachusetts they pay 18.7, in Georgia 37.7 percent. And that’s for just one child. Most families have more.
“Parents on tight budgets may be forced to seek informal, cheaper care. A neighbor offering in-home care might be a godsend — or she might just plunk her little charges in front of a TV, take in too many children or not know how to handle a medical emergency. The high cost of child care doesn’t even have the silver lining of providing decent jobs for child care workers, who are so poorly paid they may be eligible for food stamps. In most states, if child care workers have children of their own, their childcare costs would eat up half their pay or more.”
“When President Richard Nixon vetoed the 1971 Comprehensive Child Development Act, he blasted it for committing ‘the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing in opposition to the family centered approach.’ That was the end for a bill that had passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, and it was the last time Congress took the issue seriously.
“Nearly a half-century later, times have changed. Working mothers of small children are the norm and hostility to them is, finally, ebbing.”
“It’s good for workers and employers, for communities and families and children. It would create lots of jobs. It would allow lots of people to go to work. It would raise incomes and relieve a lot of stress and unhappiness and give children a good start in life. “
Nearly 50 years after President Nixon’s veto, Pollitt writes, it’s time to put child care back on the top of the nation’s political agenda.