By: Tracy Sturdivant, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Make It Work Campaign
As the co-founder and Executive Director of Make it Work, I’ve spent a lot of time these last few years asking people how they make it work. Whenever we talk about the biggest challenges people face, I hear a lot about how hard it is to find good, affordable child care.
For example, Rochean Cofield in Des Moines, IA struggled to work full-time and while in school full-time to earn an advanced degree so she could ultimately get ahead for herself and her family. She struggled to pay for child care and ultimately paid what she could and relied on family when she couldn’t find affordable options. She did what she had to do — the way we all do — but it shouldn’t have to be so hard.
One year ago I became a mom myself. Those conversations became incredibly real for me. I am lucky enough to be able to afford an amazing nanny who I share with another family. My son Henry’s eyes light up when his nanny comes through the door of our home. And we are lucky to be able to pay her a living wage. I wish we could pay her more — the value of the work she does is limitless. Unfortunately, our budget is not.
Nannies can be extremely expensive. Like Rochean, many families rely on family and friends. For years, my mother in Detroit took care of my nephew and grandparent care is pretty common for lots of families. Other parents, if they can afford it, use center-based care, which ranges greatly in cost depending on where you live and the age of your child.
In NY, where I live, center-based care for an infant averages more than $14,000 a year. For two young kids, New Yorkers pay more than $25,000 a year — 27 percent of the average married couples’ income. That’s a lot of money.
Our kids are worth it. Their teachers and caregivers are worth it too. But shouldn’t we all be able to ensure our children are cared for in a great place that doesn’t break the bank?
But there’s hope on the horizon.
Just weeks ago, the Child Care for Working Families Act was introduced in Congress. The bill, if passed, would make child care affordable so any working parent can make sure their kids receive great care. This bold, new bill would provide financial assistance directly to working parents for child care and early learning expenses on a sliding scale based on their income. Parents will be able to send their children to the high quality child care option of their choice, whether it’s in a center or a family’s home, a day camp or an after school program.
This bill is especially important for Black families and other families of color. The cost of child care constitutes a disproportionate burden for parents of color. Given that families of color are more likely to have low incomes, because of persistent discrimination in hiring and pay and overrepresentation in minimum and low wage work, child care takes a bigger piece of their paychecks than it does for white families. This only exacerbates the racial wealth gap and further entrenches economic disparity based on race.
Studies have found that the first five years of a child’s life are critical to their ability to learn social and emotional skills, as well as for setting them up to be good students and citizens later in life.
So, the type of care you can afford to give your child in their earliest years can set them up for success, or create challenges for the rest of their lives. That’s not okay. I think about my grandmother, who served as domestic help in a family’s home outside of Detroit. She cared for another family’s children and those kids grew up and went to college and went on to have successful legal and medical careers. My grandmother’s own kids did not go to college.
When I think about this it just makes my head and my heart hurt. From being breadwinners, to care takers, to standing up for our communities as activists, Black moms are already juggling so much. Unfortunately, even though my son just turned one we are already thinking about when we’ll have to have “The Talk” with him. The one where my husband and I will have to talk to our son about the “right way” to interact with law enforcement, so that he comes home alive.
All parents want to keep their children safe. When we think about Charleena Lyles, Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, Jordan Edwards, Trayvon Martin and tragically so many more, our hearts break over and over.
So the fact that it’s harder for Black parents to afford safe, quality child care at the same time that we’re worrying about our children’s safety, is supremely unjust. And while this bill is only a small part of the solution, making it easier for all parents to afford high quality care reliable, convenient and flexible matters. And increasing pay for the child care workforce, which is disproportionately made up of women of color, is also significant.
At a time when we’re spending so much time resisting a seemingly endless string of devastating and deadly policy proposals, mourning black lives, defending DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and standing up for the basic rights of women and people of color, it’s time to fight for something that will lift us all up. Make It Work has spent three years working at the intersections of economic security, gender, and racial justice. Child care sits right at that intersection. We are strongly for a bold child care vision. The public, and our values, demand it.