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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

COVID-19 took the child care crisis into the stratosphere. Democrats have a plan to fix it

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The bill would not only improve the child care industry from the parents’ perspective—it would also direct subsidies only to providers that meet salary requirements, improving pay in an industry where average wages are extremely low. The child care workforce is 95% women, 20% Latina, and 19% Black. And in a virtuous cycle, raising wages would lower turnover among child care workers, which would benefit children.

The expense of child care is a major contributing factor to the fact that “in 2016 alone, an estimated 2 million parents made career sacrifices due to problems with child care,” the Center for American Progress reported in 2019. Those decisions hit women’s careers: “In a 2018 survey conducted by the Center for American Progress, mothers were 40 percent more likely than fathers to report that they had personally felt the negative impact of child care issues on their careers.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically worsened this problem, with many child care centers closing or reducing enrollment to comply with public health guidelines, and many families feeling unsafe sending their kids to group care. As of March 1, 2.3 million women had left the paid workforce, with employment for Black and Latina women dropping disproportionately.

”This bill is critical to America’s economic recovery and growth by allowing at least 1.6 million parents to enter the workforce and creating at least 700,000 new jobs,” Center for American Progress executive vice president for policy Mara Rudman said in a statement.

In recent months, COVID-19 relief legislation has provided some help to the struggling child care industry. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated $10 billion to child care, and $39 billion in American Rescue Plan funding is on its way to support child care. But much more is needed, and this bill, a version of which will likely be included as part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, would move the U.S. closer to a sustainable child care situation.

Even the original version of the Child Care for Working Families Act wasn’t fully universal child care like many other wealthy nations have, and the level of funding that early reports suggest Biden would direct to child care would fall short of the Murray-Scott proposal. But Biden’s plan, as currently reported, would represent a historic level of investment in child care in the U.S. And it would come at a time when the need is blazingly clear. Republicans, of course, will oppose it, but under budget reconciliation rules in the Senate, a unified Democratic Party could make it happen.


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