With nearly half of working people raising children, access to affordable, quality childcare is a basic necessity for tens of millions of people. Yet working families are caught in a catch-22: parents need to work to pay their bills and depend on leaving their children at day care, yet childcare is so expensive that many parents have to work more hours to afford it.
Depending on where you live, quality childcare costs anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 a year for one child. Childcare is typically the third biggest expenditure for households, according to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Many childcare centers are also unsafe for children. One national survey found seven out of ten day care centers provide mediocre care, and in one out of eight centers, the quality of care is so poor that it actually threatens the children’s health and safety.
Another study found that more than a third of childcare programs were inadequate, meaning the quality of care was poor enough to harm children’s development (aflcio.org/familyfunresources/childcare).
Why isn’t the quality better? Partly because good childcare workers simply can’t afford to stay in their jobs. According to the SEIU, 85% of childcare workers earn no more than $7 per hour, averaging a pitiful $15,430 a year, often without benefits, even though 75% have some college training or a bachelor’s degree. Childcare workers are among the lowest paid workers in the U.S., earning less than parking lot attendants and animal caretakers! Is it any wonder that yearly turnover among childcare workers is extremely high? (aflcio.org/familyfunresources/childcare)
The other reason for the lack of quality childcare is that it is drastically underfunded. This isn’t because we live in a poor society. There’s plenty of money in this country-it’s just in the wrong hands. The average corporate executive earns $3.5 million per year, 227 times more than average childcare worker, according to the SEIU. The Republicans and Democrats are spending our tax-dollars on making big business happy and lowering their taxes instead of funding affordable, quality childcare for all.
Childcare subsidies have not been increased once since Democratic President Clinton’s 1996 “welfare reform” made it harder for parents to qualify for subsidies. Meanwhile, the need for childcare subsidies has grown due to increased economic pressures on workers and the poor (“Congress Ignores Unemployed and Low Income,” 4/16/04, NC Justice Center).
Expensive childcare is an enormous economic barrier that prevents many parents from freely choosing whether or not to have children. The rising cost of healthcare, gasoline, and college tuition combined with stagnating or declining wages also put major economic obstacles in the way of many women and couples from having children.
In fact, many women are forced into having abortions because the cost of raising a child is so high. And yet, the politicians who are trying to make abortions more difficult to obtain are often the same politicians who are making it harder for working families to afford childcare and healthcare.
The current system of privately owned childcare centers with meager state subsidies is not working. Only if the profit motive were taken out of the picture could quality childcare be available to all families, and childcare workers could earn a living wage. A socialist system is the only way to fix the childcare crisis in this country.
Women’s organizations, childcare worker unions and parent-teacher associations need to mobilize and fight to force the government to provide enough funding for childcare.
One effort under way is the Worthy Wage Day campaign, a national SEIU campaign for a living wage and better conditions for childcare workers, as well as better care for children.
Campaigns like these need to fight for funding childcare by taxing the rich and ending spending on the war in Iraq. They also need to fight for measures that could end the childcare crisis and at the same time show people what a socialist solution to childcare could look like:
- Free on-site childcare at large workplaces paid for by employers
- Free, publicly funded, high quality, flexible childcare centers in every neighborhood with a place for every child
- Union pay, benefits, and training for all childcare workers
- 11 weeks paid maternity leave before birth
- Both maternity and paternity paid leave after birth for up to 6 weeks, and then twelve months paid leave for either parent with their original job held open for 2 years
- A $12.50/hour minimum wage
- A 30-hour workweek without cutting pay or benefits
- A $500/week minimum government grant to those who choose to stay home to raise their children