Child care got crucial attention in President Obama’s State of the Union address; and now the president is calling for a federal investment in child care to make it more affordable for parents.
“In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever,” Obama said in the State of the Union.
“It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.”
Obama’s plan would “make affordable, quality child care available to every working and middle-class family with young children,” according to a White House press release, that says the president is calling for:
– “Making a landmark investment in the Child Care and Development Fund that helps every eligible family with young children afford high-quality child care.”
– “Tripling the maximum child care tax credit to $3,000 per young child,” and,
– “Creating a new innovation fund to help states design programs that better serve families that face unique challenges in finding quality care, such as those in rural areas or working non-traditional hours.”
As many parents know, child care costs can be staggering. “…in 2013, the average cost of full-time care for an infant at a child care center was about $10,000 per year – higher than the average cost of in-state tuition at a public 4-year college — and much higher in some locations,” the White House release says, adding:
“Without help, many families can face the untenable choice of not working or leaving their children in unsafe, unstable, or poor quality child care arrangements. Affordable, quality childcare can help parents so they can go to work to support their family.”
Specifically, the President’s proposal calls for ensuring that low- and moderate-income families (those earning less than 200 percent of the poverty line, or about $40,000 for a family of three) who have children age three and under “have access to a subsidy to pay for quality child care so they can work or attend school or job training. By 2025, this investment will expand access to high-quality care to more than 1 million additional young children, reaching a total of more than 2.6 million children served monthly through the child care subsidy system.”
“In a call with reporters Thursday, White House domestic policy director Cecilia Muñoz noted that federal subsidies are reaching only 1 in 6 eligible children; the current program applies to families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line, or about $40,000 for a family of three.
“‘This represents a tremendous increase in the federal child subsidy program,’ Muñoz said, adding that broadening the program would cost $80 billion and be paid for out of the $320 billion in new taxes the president has proposed levying on the wealthy and large financial institutions.”
Universal Child Care: The United States Used to Have It
The United States used to have universal child care, Obama said in the State of the Union address, explaining, “During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority…”
To illustrate the point, NPR posted “grainy newsreel from Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, Calif.,” that shows “smiling toddlers doing puzzles, painting and listening to a woman play music. All this plus lunch and snacks, for 50 cents a day, or about $7.25 adjusted for inflation.”
“The Works Project Administration first ran the day cares,” NPR reports. “The idea was to employ teachers and to also watch kids so that their unemployed parents could look for jobs. When women replaced deployed soldiers in the domestic workforce during World War II, the government funded a major expansion.”
The White House blog points to child care funding that came from the Lanham Act, formally named the Defense Housing and Community Facilities and Services Act of 1940. And Time Magazine explains how Eleanor Roosevelt weighed in, arguing that child care programs that were meant to help during the war should be continued after the war ended.
“So, put quite simply,” the White House blog says, “Most people don’t realize it, but we’ve done this before. And, it worked.”
Back to the Future
“A greater share of mothers are not working outside the home than at any time in the past two decades,” a 2014 Pew Research Center article reports. “After declining for several decades — bottoming out at 23 percent around the turn of the century — the share of stay-at-home mothers has risen in fits and starts over the past decade and a half, to 29 percent in 2012, according to the Pew Research analysis of census data.”
“While there are many reasons driving this trend, one likely reason is the rising cost of child care,” the article says. “A 2010 Census paper (which focused on married stay-at-home mothers) commented that ‘[e]specially for mothers who have more than one child under 5, the cost of day care might be higher than she could support unless she has fairly high earnings.’”
In addition: “Mothers who do work are paying more than ever for child care.”
As President Obama says, “This is a national economic priority for all of us. We can do better than we’re doing right now.”
And as Eleanor Roosevelt said in 1945:
“These children are future citizens, and if they are neglected in these early years it will hurt not only the children themselves, but the community as a whole. Many communities can carry the expense of such organization for children’s centers without any state or federal help. But where state help is needed, it should be given; and when states are incapable of giving sufficient help, it should be forthcoming on a national scale as it has been in the war years.”