For the first time in half a century, the US is close to addressing its child care crisis. In the 1970s, Congress was prompted by the shift of more women in the workforce. They nearly passed a bill that would have funded locally run childcare centers around the country, but was vetoed by then-president Nixon for being in favor of “communal approaches to child-rearing” rather than a “family-centered approach”. In both 2017 and 2019, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.) have introduced legislation that would create the United States of America’s first comprehensive childcare system. Though the bill didn’t get a hearing then, it was re-introduced April 22nd in a different political environment.
Childcare should be treated as a public good and tool of gender equity rather than an individual burden on parents. Women in the United States spend 37 percent more time on household and care work than their male counterparts, limiting career choices and economic mobility, and affecting their overall health and well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic tipped the scales for mothers balancing working from home and new child care challenges.
The estimated unpaid labor value of women and underpaid care workers is more than $7 trillion annually. Women may be forced to cut back work hours or to stop working altogether because they cannot afford or find reliable care. For mothers who are student parents, they struggle to find legislation that is cognizant of their heightened and unique needs and supports their ability to enroll and persist in college. With the economic setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a national childcare system can help working mothers land on their feet.
Four times as many women left the workforce than men in September 2020, coinciding with the start of the academic school year during the pandemic. The inaccessibility of child care for women working outside the home as well as challenges of working from home while balancing care responsibilities broke an already delicate balance for many women. It’s clear that even though the Child Care for Working Families Act has been introduced twice, the pandemic has emphasized the need for universal childcare more than ever before.
The Child Care for Working Families Act has more support that previous attempts to overhaul child care. President Biden cited the bill in his 2020 Presidential Campaign and is planning on proposing hundreds of billions of dollars toward childcare spending in his speech to Congress next week. The bill would roughly require $600 billion dollars over ten years and it is unlikely that it would receive everything that Murray and Scott propose. It may become part of a broader care agenda, featuring paid leave and expanded child tax credits.
This potential investment could signal the President’s commitment to bold childcare policy. Working families already knew the difficulties of the current care economy.
What was broken before the pandemic has only fractured further. Without bold, visionary solutions, working families will be the ones who fall through the cracks.