The U.S. Department of Labor has determined that 63% of families have both parents in the workforce. One of the many inequities brought to light during the pandemic is the lack of available, affordable, and consistent childcare for working families. It was a problem before the pandemic, for certain, but amplified by a health crisis that caused many of our nation’s flaws to be exposed. It seems that in defining, understanding, and admitting that our country has a childcare crisis, we might start addressing the issue holistically, knowing that there are no instant answers.
In 2015, the Economic Research Institute authored an article highlighting that in 33 states and the District of Columbia, infant care costs more than average in-state college tuition. Staying home to care for a child is very often a financial decision. Additionally, when or if the stay-at-home parent re-enters the workforce, their salaries seldom can catch-up to those that did not opt out. According to the latest study by the World Economic Forum, overall female participation in the workforce as well as pay gaps have worsened due to the pandemic. Many of the pay gains realized just prior to the pandemic have been all but erased.
What if young adults, particularly mothers in the United States, are done playing this high stake game? Last week we learned that we now have the lowest birthrate in 50 years. This has longer term consequences for the US economy, and none of them are good.
Countries like France have had this figured out for years. Mothers there receive 16 weeks of paid leave for a first child and a second child. Once a third child is born, mothers receive a total of 26 weeks of paid leave. Parents also receive monthly “early childhood” benefits to help cover the expenses of having a newborn and these benefits continue until the child reaches age three, when children typically enter school. Current United States tax credits are nowhere as rich as what so many other countries offer.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has recently proposed a $700 billion universal childcare plan to ensure no family pays more than 7% of their income on childcare. Some variation of this solution is desperately needed to incent more parents to return to the workforce in a fashion that makes financial sense. Hopefully whatever is decided upon looks better than the finger paint art I saved from my children’s kindergarten classes. When a system is designed thinking about how families and children best prosper, parents can return to work once their infants sleep through the night, and things are a bit more sensible for everyone. Let’s get back to work while caring for our number one priority, our children and the future, in the process.