The lives of children should not be stymied by social indifference and condemned to the carnivorous margins of society because their parents simply cannot afford quality childcare. For too many American parents, particularly Millennial parents, affordable, quality childcare means volleying between meeting housing needs and childcare costs, healthy food choices and childcare costs, or healthcare needs and childcare costs. Furthermore, an economy structured against the daily interests and sustainability of hardworking, low-wealth families dashes the vibrant fiscal contributions and economic viability of at-home parents. Companion to public education, childcare for pre-school-age children is a universal right.
In February, one of the many 2020 presidential hopefuls, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) debuted a proposal for universal access to child care as a critical policy of her campaign. The Universal Child Care and Early Learning plan provides a modicum of protection for parents condemned to cycles of poverty and scarcity in a morally damnable economy. In an article published in Medium, Warren averred, ”It will be free for millions of American families, and affordable for everyone. This is the kind of big, structural change we need to produce an economy that works for everyone,” which would at least create an affordable option for 12 million children. If the economic boom promised by this administration is already growing wages and shoring up main street, why do families compromise other familial needs or settle for substandard options just to secure child care? Excoriating the economic limits the majority of Americans survive, Warren insisted, “Today, more than half of all Americans live in childcare ‘deserts’—communities without an adequate number of licensed child care options.”
A demographic currently driving political strategies and marketing targets, Millennials (1981-1996) unfairly live under monolithic characterizations like entitled, lazy, dependent, selfish, impatient. In spite of the anecdotal myths mapped on to the entire generation by older Americans, Millennials daily encounter middling wages, massive student loan debt, and income inequality on levels that affect our capacity to compete in this stable economy. According to the Brookings Institution, America’s largest living generation constitutes nearly a quarter of the total U.S. population—79.8 million people, 30 percent of the voting age population, and almost two-fifths of the working age population.
Particularly, such audacious policies potentially widen Warren’s appeal to young voters, a fundamental building block in a path to a Democratic White House. In our nation’s recent history, my generation is the first to have higher poverty rates and lower incomes than the two preceding generations—Baby Boomers and GenX. Starting salaries for Millennials measure approximately 20 percent less than Baby Boomers made at the same age, considering the median Millennial annual salary is $35,592. According to a 2016 Pew study, an estimated 5.3 million of the nearly 17 million U.S. households living in poverty were headed by a Millennial, compared with 4.2 million headed by a Gen Xer and 5.0 million headed by a Baby Boomer.
American Blacks make up 14 percent of the Millennial population, approximately one-quarter of Black Millennials grapple with life below the poverty line. Aligned with all historical precedents in America, Black and Latinx Millennials predictably experience higher levels of economic precariousness than their white counterparts. Inadequate childcare continues the predisposition of Black children to dim political economic futures. Ingredient in our national economic arrangement persists the structural abandonment of nonwhite parents in the US, a nation whose founding economy thrived a massive unpaid workforce in the form of chattel slavery. Participation among black Millennials in presidential elections dropped between 2012 and 2016, according to Pew, with turnout at 55 percent and 51 percent, respectively. Warren’s Universal Childcare offers one way for Black Millennials, and Millennials in general, to connect electoral politics directly to their budgets and pockets.
In some cities, quality childcare rivals the exorbitance of college tuition, locking out millions of families like student loan-saddled Millennials. America’s most degreed generation, Millennial parents shoulder the financial burden of gargantuan educational debt needed to secure their middle-income careers, while also doling out large sums of those incomes to meet the expense of childcare.
Child Care Aware argues, “The government standard for affordable childcare fees set by the Department of Health and Human Services is less than 7 percent of family income, yet across all states, the average cost of center-based infant child care exceeds 25 percent of the average median income for Millennials.” My sister, a Black Millennial single-mother, expends 26% of her monthly income to cover the childcare costs for her younger daughter. In the US, 8.6 million households are headed by a single mother who lived with a child younger than 18—roughly 4 million are Millennial single mothers.
Bold policies akin to Warren’s plan refurbish the economic floor of America to guarantee its capacity to carry the weight of all of our dreams and material needs, not just those of the super-rich and the upper-middle-class beneficiaries of generational wealth acquisition and compensated labor. The fresh air of economic sufficiency blows all around all of us when the structures of power draft legislation and invest resources to open-wide the airtight cages of poverty our histories of racism and patriarchy constructed for millions of Americans.
Millennials and their children need a nation where parents are not compelled to make the anxiety-laden negotiations between jeopardizing one’s only source of income and securing childcare in an out-priced market. Quality, consistent childcare frequently measures the possibility a child possesses to grow up in the sunlight of economic opportunity or the overcast of prolonged poverty. We live in a toxic smog of lies intended to dope the American public to believe universal childcare and other anti-poverty policies exist outside the fiscal reach our government. If our government can commit to corporate welfare and a tax windfall to the super rich, we can unquestionably find the financial means to guarantee child care. An economic imagination grounded in moral commitments to sufficiency and common human deservedness opens pathways for an equitable America.