As the Democratic party prepares to host the next Democratic debate on Jan. 14, we hope that presidential candidates will pay attention to the families and childcare workers who are building a powerful movement that will create a system of universal care for all families. At the forefront of this movement is California, a state that’s making bold actions – including providing childcare educators the right to bargain for better wages and health benefits.
Rebounding from years of austerity, California has become a national pacesetter in early childhood investment. Governor Gavin Newsom and the state legislature prioritized children and early educators by allocating nearly $1 billion in new spending for child care and preschool programs in this year’s budget.
This turnaround didn’t happen by accident. A growing movement of parents and providers in the state has been broadcasting the message that child care is unaffordable to most families, that caregivers aren’t paid a living wage, and that the entire system keeps millions of Californians in poverty. Grassroots organizations like Parent Voices have brought mothers from low income communities of color to meet with legislators and testify at budget hearings about the need for reliable access to care.
This patient organizing work has started to bear fruit. Newsom made early learning a major theme in his campaign last year, and – unlike his tighfisted predecessor – he was willing to use some of California’s large fiscal surplus to help families in need. As one would expect, he took credit for the budget increases, but he also acknowledged the role of Parent Voices and other grassroots advocates in creating the public will for this advance.
Worthwhile as they are, the advances in California are only a small step in the direction of the child care system we need, which requires a federal solution for more affordable and quality childcare and early childhood education programs.
Forty years ago, more than half of mothers stayed home with their children, but today in seven out of 10 families with children, both parents work. Child care costs on average $12,350 to $13,900 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In California, annual infant care is $17,000, the third highest behind Washington D.C. ($24,000) and Massachuesetts ($21,000).
I know a thing or two about working to pay for child care. My family is one of the seven in 10 households with children where both parents work and we struggled to pay more than $2,000 a month in the nation’s capital to pay for my son’s day care. We found ourselves having to take on credit card debt to pay for clothes, food and gas in order to use our monthly income for the basics, like a place to live, child care and utilities.
I’m not alone. This is why I and other parents, advocates and educators are joining this national childcare movement.
We need a strong national child care infrastructure that prioritizes equal opportunities for children no matter their race or their families’ incomes. We achieve this by giving children safe and stable learning environments from birth, while providing parents the freedom to work and advance in their careers. That should be the American way.
We would like to hear Presidential candidates talk about how they are going to use federal funding to provide comprehensive access to subsidized care as a way to promote equitable opportunities for children. We are also eager to learn how candidates plan to invest in the early care and education workforce so the people who care for our children have a living wage as California is now doing.
We can all learn from California about how to create a healthy child care system that works for all of us.