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Mara Bolis's picture

When I moved back to Boston from New York City, my kids were little and only my husband was employed.  With a newborn and a 3-year-old in the house, there wasn’t time to think about anything but survival.  Luckily, my mom lived nearby and would come over weekly to help.   I could have time to work on my resume, volunteer for organizations in the area to grow my network and look for jobs.  The key factor here is that my child care was affordable—in fact, it was free —making my transition back into work far easier than it would have been otherwise.

In a pandemic, many family members who used to help take care of the kids have had to stay away for their own safety.  It’s no wonder women have had to step away from their jobs and careers. For many families it was a logical consequence of a societal problem: the stubborn gender pay gap between men and women in this country means that in 2 parent cis-gendered households women are earning less than their husbands.  If someone is going to leave the workforce to care for the kids– either for a day or for a year – it will be the mom.  Women accounted for 84% of all workers with child care-related absences in the average month in 2020.  Not only is lack of affordable child care a reason women are losing their jobs, it’s likely to be a major barrier to women re-entering the workforce 

This is especially true for low-income families.  Pre-pandemic access to affordable child care was already a major issue; roughly one third of poor families are pushed into poverty by child care expenses.  Before the pandemic, 51% of families in the US lived in a “child care desert” where there were either no child care options or inadequate slots to meet demand.   And as child care centers faced additional safety measures and lowered capacity to allow for social distancing, operating costs of child care centers spiked.  In Indiana, where child care costs are the highest in the US, households with children younger than 5 put around 20% of their income on average toward child care, the same percentage many in Indiana pay for rent.

Meanwhile, despite high costs, the rate of poverty among child care workers tends to be more than twice the rate of poverty among women workers overall, and over 94% of that workforce are women.

Investing in child care is a win-win-win-win.

  • Growing our child care infrastructure and increasing access to child care gets working parents back to work or back looking for work

  • Access to early education and child care fosters higher incomes for future generations

  • Investing in care workers means we value the critical work done by so many women of color in the US

  • Investing in early childhood education provides a stimulative effect to our economies; studies have found that a $1 investment in child care returns $1.88 in economic growth.  

Once the stimulus is said and done, we should support action on the “Child Care for Working Families Act,” which would support low- and middle- income families’ access to child care and early learning programs, assuring that no working family would have to pay more than 7% of their household income on child care.  It would also improve the supply of child care providers, supports the creation of preschool programs for low-wage families, and supports the expansion of Head Start.  Let’s make  sure that mothers across this country don’t have to rely on the free or under-paid labor of other women to have a career.  Government-funded affordable child care means that every woman who wants to work has the option.  

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