By Barbara Chavous
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, who’s seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, has introduced a plan to improve child care, making it high-quality, universal, and affordable for all Americans.
Childcare programs would be regulated by the government and subsidized with a tax contribution from millionaires. Under the Warren plan, child care facilities would charge tuition based on a family’s ability to pay.
According to Warren, child care costs can range anywhere from 9 to 36 percent of a family’s income, and research from Moody’s seems to back this assertion, suggesting that an average family spends about 10 percent of their income on child care expenses.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, Pennsylvania families spend more than $10,600 annually for infant care, and more than $8,000 per year for a 4-year-old.
An average family in the Commonwealth spends nearly 16 percent of their income on infant care for just one child, while infant care plus 4-year-old care could take up nearly 28 percent of a family’s income annually.
Only 27.5 percent of Pennsylvania families can afford to have infant care, and a minimum wage worker would need to work 37 straight weeks at full-time hours to afford infant care for just one child.
Sky-high costs like this are simply unacceptable and unsustainable. A family should not be spending nearly the same amount for childcare that they would pay for tuition at a public university. Childcare, especially for infants, is an integral part of early childhood development.
These caregivers often serve as the first teachers for young children and the level of quality and the availability of a well-rounded experience can have a noticeable impact on the success of these children. As such, we absolutely have to make sure that families are not being priced out of an opportunity to provide for the development of their young child or children.
In addition to alleviating costs for millions of low- and middle-income families, adopting a plan for universal child care would make life easier for working families and perhaps allow more women to enter the workforce instead of staying at home.
According to a 2015 survey from the Washington Post, 62 percent of mothers and 36 percent of fathers had left their job or had to take a lesser job in order to accommodate child-care needs.
Providing affordable, quality childcare will hopefully encourage more Americans to have children, especially those coming from low-income backgrounds. Having that promise that their kid will have a reliable place to go during the day is a huge safety net for people who need to be a working parent.
The bottom line is this: childcare needs to be a priority, not an afterthought. Families should not be spending a quarter of their income to be able to afford care for their children.
Families should not be basing career decisions on the location and schedule of their child care provider. Families should not feel like they have to choose between working or having a child. We have to do right by our kids and families.
The time is now.
Barbara Chavous is the CEO of Somerset Early Learning Academy, a Philadelphia-based early childhood education center.