Wednesday, December 07, 2022

The childcare crisis needs much more attention than it receives

This article is part of HuffPost’s bi-weekly political newsletter. Click here to sign in.

The past week has been full of news, including the 6th of January hearing and a two-party agreement on a Arms violence bill. The Supreme Court has a major ruling on church and statewith landmark rulings on guns and abortion coming soon – maybe even this week.

HuffPost was all about these stories if you have to catch up. I would especially recommend last week’s series imagining a post-Roe America – including Alanna Vagianos on how conservatives try cut off access to abortion pillsTravis Waldron on the links between anti-abortion and anti-democracy movementsand Nathalie Baptiste on the disproportionate impact that abortion ban has on black women.

But for today’s newsletter, I would like to write about something else that really needs more coverage: the crisis in American child care, which is causing tangible, severe hardship for millions of parents and their children.

About one in three families with young children experienced “serious problems” finding child care last year, according to a recording which came out in October. And there is many other data out there just like it.

I’m familiar with child care because I’ve been covering the issue for a decade, plus I’m the working parent of young children. But a story I saw on Tuesday caught my attention in a way few have had recently.

It included a scene from a chain cafe, a passage from Jane Addams’ memoir and an episode of the state from World War II.

A new problem that is actually quite old

The story was in a Medium pos by John Duong, leading the venture capital arm of a higher education foundation. While working at a neighborhood cafe, he saw a young girl sleeping in a booth. She looked 2, maybe 3 years old, Duong wrote. He reckoned her mother or father was in the toilet. Later he realized that her father worked there and brought her to work, and looked after her every now and then – presumably because he did not have childcare or could not afford it.

I say “presumably” because Duong did not get the background, so there is no way to be sure. But the scene immediately reminded me of two eras in American history when this kind of thing was common.

One was the early 20th century, when families in the big cities for factory work left their children alone, often at home and unsupervised – in other words, they did not even have a parent who regularly looked after them like the father in the cafe was.

Jane Addams, writes in her memoirs “Twenty years at Hull-House, “told what happened to three children she met in Chicago:” One fell at a third floor window, another was burned, and the third had a curved spine due to the fact that he was tied up for three years. all day long to the leg of the kitchen table, only released in the afternoon by his older brother who hurried in from a neighboring factory to share his lunch with him. ”

The other historical predecessor was during World War II, when women worked in factories while men fought overseas. “Stories of children being locked in cars next to factories, chained to temporary trailers and left in movie theaters quickly filled newspapers and eventually became the subject of congressional hearings.” Chris Herfsa professor of public affairs at Arizona State University, explains in a 2017 paper over the Lanham Lawwhich set up a network of state-run child care centers.

The Lanham program might have become the basis for a permanent national system, if only the federal government had kept it going. But it did not. The next and actually only serious attempt to create a national plan took place in 1971, when Congress passed a two-party bill that vetoed President Richard Nixon following opposition from conservatives.

It made American parents struggle, in a way that their peers in peer countries. But politicians have barely noticed – until relatively recently.

A political window that seemed wide open

Childcare received serious attention in the 2016 presidential campaign (from Hillary Clinton) and again in 2020 (of all the top Democratic presidential candidates). It was also the focus of a comprehensive proposal that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) And Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Md.) developed and then promoted with the help of outside advocacy groups.

Then the pandemic hit. Initially, working parents could not get childcare because providers had to close. Later, when childminders started reopening, they could not hire enough workers. The root of the problem is this childcare salaries are notoriously low, which makes the works less attractive; at the same time, providers do not have the money to increase salaries because they are already asking for as much if not more than many parents can afford.

It felt like exactly the kind of political conditions it would take implement significant legislation – and for most of 2021, it looked like that would happen. President Joe Biden has made child care (and more general care) a major focus of his “Build Better Back” agenda. Democratic leaders have a version of the Murray-Scott proposal in the legislation.

We all know what happened to that bill: it died in December when Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) said it was too big, Democrats deprived of 50th vote they needed. Democrats have been working quietly (and lately not so quietly) to save a portion of that legislation, but so far there has not been much public talk about including child care in the bill.

The obstacles to change, then and now

It’s hard to distinguish the failure of the original childcare proposal from the failure of the original Build Back Better – which, depending on your perspective, is to blame for Manchin, Democratic leaders, broader political constraints including unanimous Republican opposition, or a combination of those factors.

But two other factors were obviously important as well.

One is that the implementation of any kind of notable welfare state expansion in the US is extremely difficultboth because the structural design of the U.S. legislative process deters it and because public confidence in the government at historical lows.

The other is that childcare is still seen by many as a “women’s problem” – which is in a sense accurate, because women typical shoulder responsibility for child care out of proportion – and men still have excessive power in Washington.

It seems to be changing, slowly, as women gain more influence. It is no coincidence that this latest attempt took place at a time when the Speaker of the House, chairman of the relevant Senate committee and vice-president were all women – and that the president coincidentally a man who, unusual for men of his generation, has a lot of experience as a caregiver for his children.

Some childcare legislation may still be in place. Murray recently partnered with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) On a more modest initiative it may impress in whatever legislation Biden and Democratic leaders get this year – or may even be the basis of a future bipartisan bill. A new study This week by Herbst and a group of colleagues showed it can significantly reduce childcare costs for most families.

But nothing is going to happen if childcare remains a second- or third-tier issue. It is going to take more attention from politicians and ultimately more attention from the public. Maybe stories like the one about the little girl in the cafe can help make that happen.

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