Here’s why America is talking about Universal Child Care

by Marisol Bello | February 19, 2019 8:00 am

Olivia Powell, 2, plays at the Teddy’s Child Watch care center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Dec. 9, 2015. Teddy’s Child Watch is a free child care service for children ages six weeks to 12 years old. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Valerie Monroy)

This week, Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled her plan for Universal Child Care, signaling its place atop the national political agenda. In it, she details the difficulties of finding affordable and high-quality child care as a working mom, and why we must do better for all of our children, parents and country.

At Community Change, we believe in an America that puts families first, and that means providing excellent and culturally competent child care for every family, regardless of their income level or race, because every family deserves the best care for their children. For years, we’ve partnered with grassroots groups across the country, including OLÉ in New Mexico, ISAIAH in Minnesota, Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO) in Kansas, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, New Georgia Project, Parent Voices in California, and many others, to bring to fruition a bold vision for child care in America. A vision that is deeply grounded in the struggle of parents and providers who have come together to direct a movement for Universal Child Care that is led by and for primarily women of color.

In July 2018, we commissioned a poll with the Center for American Progress in which a majority of respondents said finding affordable child care in their area is a serious problem. Overwhelmingly, 77% of respondents also said they support government funding of child care and early education programs with the primary reason being that child care is too expensive. In total, 62% of people surveyed agree that access to child care should be universal so that all families can benefit from these critical programs.

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So why is a candidate for president like Elizabeth Warren taking up this issue so prominently in their platform? Given the long-term benefits of affordable child care and early childhood education for children, and the positive economic impact on working families, there is an urgent need to adopt policies that help families access great care and provide fair wages for child care workers.

Evidence shows that this conversation is actually way overdue:

The inability to find excellent, affordable child care is a huge barrier for working families, and this issue is particularly important for women.

Women are still the primary caregivers for children, and it is difficult for mothers in the workforce when they do not have access to reliable child care. Investing in excellent and culturally appropriate child care will help to ensure that all women have equal opportunity to succeed at work and with their families.

Today, American families pay an average of $10,000 per child for full-time child care. In 31 states, infant care costs more annually than in-state college tuition, while federal child care assistance only reaches 1 in 6 eligible families.

Parents want the very best for their children, and that means having access to excellent and culturally relevant child care you can trust, no matter how much money you make. In 2016, almost 2 million parents of young children (age 5 and under) had to quit a job, turn down a new job or change jobs because of problems with child care. Guaranteeing every family access to child care would mean more economic security, especially for African-American and Latino families.

Child care providers are our children’s first teachers and play a critical role in early childhood education, but unlike other fields, these workers earn on average under $10 per hour and struggle just to make ends meet.

While child care workers do essential and extremely difficult work, they are earning poverty level wages, which reflect how women’s work has been undervalued throughout history. It is beyond time that child care workers are treated with dignity and paid fair wages.

Additionally, a major investment in child care and early learning would create new jobs and new opportunities for struggling parents to succeed in the workforce. A child care plan that works for all would put more people to work, increase wages and help families make ends meet while providing children with safe and stable learning environments.

Whether you’re a parent now or will be in the future, we all have a stake in ensuring the next generation of Americans has a bright future. The first five years of a child’s life are critical to their ability to learn social and emotional skills and for becoming good students later in life. But with high child care costs and the reality of modern work, many families can’t give their children the chances they need early in life.

No matter where we come from or what our color, we all work hard to provide and care for our families. We need to join together to fight for a future that makes our shared vision of universal quality, affordable and culturally competent child care a reality – just like we won better wages, safer workplaces, and civil rights in our past.

With Senator Warren’s announcement, we look forward to hearing more from other presidential candidates about their plans to help all families find and afford child care to ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed, and to center the needs of women, and particularly women of color, who are disproportionately impacted by the broken system we have now.

We need to move forward to provide excellent child care opportunities for children of every background, race, and religious belief. We will continue to make sure that the most impacted people, primarily women of color, are central to the design and implementation of a new child care system that works for all. Join our movement today!

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