The lack of affordable child care should be front and center when we talk about the economy.
When I found out I was pregnant, one of the very first things I worried about was how to find a way to juggle family and work — which meant finding child care.
I researched day care centers and found that every single facility within a mile of my home or workplace was full. I had to pay hundreds of dollars to put my newborn child on waitlists, where even now, at two years old, my son remains.
After nearly a year of piecing together family help and time off work, I did eventually find an opening, but I pay more for my toddler’s care than I would pay for his college tuition — and certainly more than I can afford.
Still, I consider myself lucky. Scenarios like mine, and others that are far worse, aren’t unusual. I was fortunate to have a job with paid leave, a good salary, and family able to help fill the gaps. In our current economy, these are enormous privileges, but they shouldn’t be.
Paid leave and affordable child care should instead be a right for all working families. It’s the difference between getting ahead and falling behind financially. For many it’s what pushes them over the edge into economic hardship or poverty.
And yet, President Trump has failed to come up with a plan that meets these urgent needs.
Instead, Trump has floated a child care tax proposal that would do next to nothing for the families and workers who need it most. He’s proposed a child care tax deduction and letting families set up tax-free savings accounts for kids, which are by definition more valuable for richer families.
An average family of four in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, for instance, would pocket over $7,300, while working families in counties across the Midwest would take home less than six dollars. (No, that’s not a typo.)
And how many middle-class and low-income families with small children have thousands of dollars they can set aside for a child savings account?
None of these options are meaningful reforms. They do nothing to improve the availability or quality of child care, or to address the needs of child care workers, many of whom are working parents themselves.
They’re just another way for the wealthy to pay less in taxes.
There are real reforms being considered in Congress. Senator Patty Murray and Representative Bobby Scott have introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act. This bill would help middle- and low-income families afford child care, improve the supply and quality of care, and make care more flexible for the reality of working families’ busy lives.
It would help with care for families with newborns up to teenagers, and would cap the percentage of family income spent on child care. It would also support and value the workers who provide care.
That would make the difference for families dealing with the stress and crushing bills of child care in our country, and for those who are simply out of options.
Child care should be front and center when we talk about the economy. Seven out of ten mothers with children under 18 are in the workplace today, and more and more women are the primary or sole breadwinners in the family. Every year, families lose nearly $29 billion in wages because they lack access to affordable child care and paid family and medical leave.
Investing in quality child care would only yield returns — in women’s participation in the workforce, in the well-being of kids, and in our society as a whole. Investing in our children’s care is the single best bet we can make as a society.
Dawn Huckelbridge is the senior adviser on policy at People For the American Way. Distributed by OtherWords.org.