The child care crisis needs far more attention than it receives

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The past week has been full of news, including January 6 hearings and a bipartisan agreement on a gun violence bill. The Supreme Court made a landmark decision on church and statewith landmark rulings on guns and abortion to come ― possibly even this week.

The Switzerland Times has been all over these stories if you need to catch up. I would especially recommend last week’s series imagining a post-Roe America ― including Alanna Vagianos on how conservatives are trying to cut access to abortion pillsTravis Waldron on the links between anti-abortion and anti-democracy movementsand Nathalie Baptiste on the the disproportionate impact of abortion bans on black women.

But for today’s newsletter, I’d like to write about something else that really should get more coverage: the child care crisis in the United States, which is causing real and serious difficulties for millions of parents and their children.

About one in three families with young children had ‘serious problems’ finding daycare last year, according to investigation which came out in October. And there is lots of other data the low exactly like that.

I know childcare well because I’ve covered it for a decade, plus I’ve been the working parent of young children. But a story I saw on Tuesday caught my eye in a way that few have recently.

It was a scene from a chain of cafes, a passage from Jane Addams’ memoir, and an American episode of World War II.

A new problem that is actually quite old

The story was in a Average position by John Duong, who runs the venture capital arm of a higher education foundation. While working in a neighborhood cafe, he spotted a young girl sleeping in a cubicle. She looked 2, maybe 3 years old, Duong wrote. He thought his mother or father was in the bathroom. Later, he realized that her father worked there and had brought her to work, watching her from time to time ― probably because he didn’t or couldn’t afford babysitting. children.

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I say “likely” because Duong didn’t understand the backstory, so there’s no way to be sure. But the scene immediately made me think of two periods in US history where this kind of thing was common.

One was in the early 20th century, when families in big cities for factory work left their children alone, often at home and unattended – in other words, they didn’t even have a parent to watch them. watched regularly as the father in the cafe was.

Jane Addams, writing in her memoir “Twenty years at Hull-Houserecounted what happened to three children she met in Chicago: “One had fallen from a third-story window, another had been burned, and the third had a curved spine due to the fact that for three years he had been tied all day to the foot of the kitchen table, only released at noon by his older brother who ran hastily from a nearby factory to share his lunch with him.

The other historical background dates back to World War II, when women worked in factories while men fought overseas. “Stories of children locked in cars adjacent to factories, chained to temporary trailers, and left in movie theaters quickly filled the papers and eventually became the subject of congressional hearings,” Chris Herbstprofessor of public affairs at Arizona State University, explained in an article from 2017 about Lanham Lawwho set up a network of government-run child care centres.

This has left American parents struggling in a way that their counterparts in peer countries do not. But politicians hardly noticed – until relatively recently.

A political window that seemed wide open

Childcare received particular attention during the 2016 presidential campaign (from hillary clinton) and again in 2020 (from all the top Democratic presidential candidates). It was also the subject of a vast proposal which Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Md.) developed and then promoted with the help of outside advocacy groups.

Then the pandemic hit. At first, working parents couldn’t find child care because providers had to close. Later, when child care services started to open again, they could not hire enough workers. The root of the problem is that daycare salaries are notoriously low, making jobs less attractive; at the same time, providers don’t have the money to raise wages, because they already charge as much, if not more, than many parents can afford.

It was exactly the kind of political conditions that would be needed to pass important legislation ― and, for much of 2021, it looked like it would happen. President Joe Biden has made child care (and caregiving more generally) a key focus of his “Building Back Better” agenda. Democratic leaders included a version of the Murray–Scott proposal in legislation.

We all know what happened to that bill: it died in December when Sen. Joe Manchin (TSWT.Va.) said it was too big, deprive the Democrats of the 50th vote they need. Democrats have been working quietly (and lately not so quietly) to salvage some of this legislation, but so far there’s not been much public discussion about including child care in the law Project.

Obstacles to change, yesterday and today

But two other factors were obviously important as well.

The first is that the enactment of any kind of significant welfare state expansion in the United States is extraordinarily difficultboth because the structural design of the American legislative process deters it and because public confidence in government is at an all-time low. historic lows.

The other is that child care is still seen by many as a “women’s issue” ― which, in a sense, is correct, because women typically shoulder child care responsibility disproportionate — and men still wield disproportionate power in Washington.

It seems to be changing, slowly, as women gain influence. It is no coincidence that this latest effort occurred at a time when the Speaker of the House, the chair of the relevant Senate committee and the deputy chair were all women ― and the President happens to be a man who, unusually for men of his generation, has a lot of experience caring for his children.

Some kind of child care law could still be passed. Murray recently teamed up with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on a more modest initiative it could slip into whatever legislation Biden and Democratic leaders pass this year — or perhaps even be the basis of a future bipartisan bill. A new study published this week by Herbst and a group of colleagues showed that it could significantly reduce childcare costs for most families.

But nothing will happen if child care remains a second or third level problem. This is going to get more attention from politicians and ultimately more attention from the public. Maybe stories like the little girl in the cafe can help make that happen.

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