When love doesn't pay the bills: Why supporting quality affordable childcare is good for all
Last month, I represented MomsRising as part of the first ever Grassroots Assembly on Childcare and Early Education. Seventy five policy and advocacy groups came together to discuss the state of childcare in America. We came from all over the country; from the inner city of Detroit, the beaches of Miami, the California coast, rural New Hampshire and many other locations. We were many different colors and socio-economic groups. We represented different religions and cultures. Yet our stories were all shockingly similar. We told the story of women in America.
Most of us will become caregivers at some point in our life. We care for our own children, and the children of others. We care for the elderly and the sick. It is hard work, and it requires many sacrifices, yet women have been caretakers throughout history. However, we are rarely financially compensated according to the value of our labor, and often our important role in shaping the future of our country goes unrecognized.
When the subject of low pay for preschool teachers is raised, the response is often, “Well, they get paid in love.” But love does not pay the bills, and gifted educators are regularly forced to leave their chosen career because they simply cannot afford to live on their meager salaries. Child care workers do not receive a livable wage either, although the cost of child care continues to rise.
Meanwhile, parents are forced to patch together unsatisfactory childcare arrangements while they struggle to make ends meet. In today’s economy, most families need two incomes to survive, and child care is eating up an overly large percentage of that income. Moms, in particular, are juggling tremendous responsibilities. When we are overburdened, the workforce and the home both suffer, and our children receive less than ideal care. The options, particularly for low income families, are extremely limited and sometimes non-existent.
We know that the early years are when experiences can shape the brain for success in the future. The greatest gift we can give our children is a stable environment and an opportunity to learn. Uncertainty, limited social interactions, traumatic experiences, and lack of access to education have the completely opposite effect. These are the children who will struggle for the rest of their lives. They are more likely to need extra supports in school, and less likely to finish their education. They go on to lower paid jobs, and the cycle of untapped potential continues. The women who came to the Grassroots Assembly know the statistics; we have experienced the lack of support, and that inadequate and unaffordable child care hurts our families and communities deeply. We all want to see improvements in the current system.
There are some reasons for optimism. Our government is beginning to see the cost of ignoring the needs of children and families. In March of 2018, the Child Care for Working Families Act was passed as part of the omnibus spending bill. The Child Care and Development Block Grant was nearly doubled, to $5.22 billion. This increase could mean that 200,000 additional children will have access to childcare. Early Head Start and Head Start also received large boosts to their programs, and there was a $12.88 million addition to preschool grants for children with disabilities.
This is wonderful news for activists. However, we always have to keep a close eye on the government to make sure funds are actually used for their intended purpose. Cities and states often claim that they cannot afford to provide quality options. They don’t consider the actual needs of the communities they serve, and they usually don’t ask for our input. Those in power have historically been reluctant to spend money on child care, because they don’t think it’s truly necessary. We need to tell our legislators that this is just not true. These additional funds must be used to make a difference in every state.
We have fought hard to provide the best possible lives for our families. But despite our efforts, too many children in America are falling behind. When more individuals are successful, our entire society will be more successful, and that is something we can all strive for.