So, our daughter-in-law asked us last night what each of us would do first if we were elected to the U.S. presidency. Cait would take on campaign finance reform. Phil’s immediate concern is income inequality. Dom has health care at the top of his to-do list.
Me? No-brainer: universal child care. I am not smart enough to tell you precisely how that could be accomplished, though I do believe Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax could go a long way toward funding this priority. I can, however, tell you why it must be addressed.
Child Care Is Not A Luxury
When our kids were very young, we were fortunate enough to have one of us home with them. That was because Dom was able and willing to work nights and afternoons while I worked days. Times–and employment– have changed. In 2020, both parents must hold down jobs,and child care is a fact of twenty-first century life. It’s not a negotiable add-on. It is a necessity. But not all child care is equal.
What hasn’t changed is this: Every parent still wants the best for her children: attentive, educated, nurturing care givers, safe facilities, administrative oversight. We all want those pint-sized toilets and sinks, the colorful murals, musical instruments and outdoor playgrounds.
What we want may not correspond to what we can afford.
Quality child care comes with a hefty price tag. Annual, full-time spots in well- staffed, accredited centers can run the equivalent of a year’s tuition at a public college . Even with two incomes, the average working family is often priced out.
It Matters to Us All
So what? People want to know why tax dollars should go to child care for someone else’s kids.
There are lots of reasons. Some are practical and immediate. Workplace productivity improves when parents know their kids are well cared for. Turnover among day care providers is lower in well run centers. Children are safer and healthier in quality facilities; every year, kids die in unlicensed day care centers.
But wait…there’s more
You don’t think the earliest years of a child’s life matter? Think again. High quality child care is a giant step toward future opportunity. Children lucky enough to have slots in the best facilities will enter school already on the road to more academic and economic opportunities. They have already begun to learn how to learn. They see themselves as members of communities with the commensurate perks and responsibilities. They have consistent care givers in an environment that is devoid of hazards.
Statistically, kids in quality care environments– where there is conversation, where books are available– typically start kindergarten with 1,000 more words than kids who are cared for in under-served environments. 1,000 more words. Literacy experts assert that it requires a minimum of ten exposures to a word before a child “owns” it. The literacy gap widens annually leaving kids behind before they have a chance to catch up.
Some might say that parents can–and should– make up the difference and that is partially true. But in our current economy, where parents sometimes more than one job to meet basic needs of shelter and food, that might be a stretch.
And this is one of the things I like about Elizabeth Warren. She understands the urgency associated with early childhood and Pre-K. It isn’t a luxury. This is the future. It is your future and mine, too, as today’s kids will become tomorrow’s social and economic engines.
As I write this, I realize that all four of us were right last night about presidential priorities. Without campaign finance reform, we will choose among only those candidates with enough wealth to participate in elections. Income inequality puts a huge percentage of kids at an immediate disadvantage; more and more of our kids see themselves as the “have-nots.” And health care? Who wants to choose between paying the child care bill and pediatric expenses?