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Child Care Is A Public Good. Our Government Should Start Treating It That Way

A daycare center employee pushes a KinderVan filled with preschool children on an outing along the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
A daycare center employee pushes a KinderVan filled with preschool children on an outing along the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

A historic amount of funding is making its way to child care centers across the country thanks to the American Rescue Plan. It’s time to start thinking about expanding and reforming child care in the long-term.

Even before the pandemic, half of U.S. families were living in child care deserts, and too many families were spending far too much of their income on child care. If we don’t want to reverse course and go back to the ways things were, we need our government to treat child care as a public good that is vital to the wellbeing of our society and our economy. We need child care that is affordable and accessible for everyone.

The efforts of lawmakers and advocates who care about child care over the last year have been focused on saving the child care industry from total collapse during the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan included $39 billion dollars for the child care industry, money that will help keep child care providers open and support them with serving families in their communities.

Now that we’ve pumped money into the child care industry to help prevent its collapse, what comes next?

For Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-MA), Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), what comes next is the Child Care is Infrastructure Act, a bill they recently reintroduced. This bill marks a turning point when we move beyond months of focusing on relief and short-term damage control, and start recognizing the importance of child care as a fundamental part of our long-term economic recovery.

The Child Care is Infrastructure Act doesn’t solve all the problems that plague the U.S. child care sector, but it takes us in the right direction.

The legislation doesn’t solve all the problems that plague the U.S. child care sector, but it takes us in the right direction. This bill’s title alone promotes an important framing of child care that is important for lawmakers and the general public to understand as our focus shifts from relief to recovery: child care is infrastructure. For the millions of women who have lost their jobs in the pandemic, having access to affordable child care — just like having access to roads to get to work — will be a determining factor for whether they are able to hold a job or not.

Among other things, the bill would allocate $10 billion over five years to directly invest in child care facilities across the country, and help address the accessibility issue many families currently face.

The bill also focuses on child care workers’ workforce development by establishing a student loan repayment program, as well as providing financial support for child care workers pursuing an associate’s degree or credential in childhood development. This also has a positive impact on women, as a vast majority of child care workers are women and a disproportionate number of them are women of color, and there is currently an alarmingly high rate of poverty among child care workers — twice the rate of other women workers.

While there will be different approaches, our leaders must start treating child care as a vital part of our economy

This direct support to child care workers is a particularly important part of this bill, because, in addition to low-wages, child care workers found themselves with limited job security during COVID-19. One example: Rochelle Wilcox, the founder and director of Wilcox Academy of Early Learning in New Orleans, Louisiana, suffered greatly during the pandemic. As a result of the American Rescue Plan, “I was able to bring some of my teachers back, but I couldn’t bring all of them back,” she says. “So now I have to juggle supporting my other staff, staff looking for other jobs — they have families to feed.”

The Child Care is Infrastructure Act is the first of many bills expected to be introduced this year that aim to address the challenges facing our child care system. Earlier this week the Biden administration announced the preparation of a $3 trillion infrastructure package, which includes plans to fulfill at least some of the campaign commitments President Biden and Vice President Harris made in their caregiving plan, such as universal pre-K and large federal investments for the child care sector.

While there will be different approaches, our leaders must start treating child care as a vital part of our economy, they must directly address the needs of underserved and low-wage women, and they must value the work of caring for children in a way that will ultimately lead to a more equitable economy and society.

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Rebecca Rewald Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Rebecca Rewald is program advisor at Oxfam America, focused on providing gender support to Oxfam country offices and affiliates working on agriculture advocacy under the Together Against Poverty (TAP) grant.

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