David Heinen: Child care should be an infrastructure priority
Recently I discovered that an old high school buddy, Joe, was now living in Nevada County, and resuming our acquaintance after 60 years, we started lunch meetings where we solve the world’s problems. At a recent lunch we were discussing Biden’s infrastructure bill currently being wrangled in Congress.
It occurred to us that a key solution to many major problems — income inequality, labor force shortage, roads jammed by commuters, homelessness, early childhood education, poverty, and lost latchkey kids who are deprived of supervision because their parent can’t find child care — would be to make child care an integral part of any infrastructure bill.
Data from the Center for American Progress concludes that “licensed infant and toddler child care is unaffordable for most families:”
“The average cost to provide center-based child care for an infant in the United States is $1,230 per month. In a family child-care home, the average cost is $800 per month. On average, a family making the state median income would have to spend 18% of their income to cover the cost of child care for an infant, and 13% for a toddler.”
In no state does the cost of center-based infant or toddler child care meet the federal definition of affordable — no more than 7% of annual household income. In 12 states, the cost of child care for just one infant exceeds 20% of the state median income.
It occurred to us that a possible solution would be to install comprehensive subsidized child day care for the entire workforce, and continued pandemic telecommunication half time for all workers.
Imagine that the COVID-19 telecommunication pattern was to become permanent, and a large number of a corporations’ workforce worked from home every other week and that the employee’s work stations were shared when the workers were on site. Theoretically, half of a corporation’s physical space could be converted to a child-care facility, subsidized by infrastructure funds, for the on-site half of the staff.
This may sound like a mad fantasy, but think of the upside — commuter routes would have reduced traffic, reducing stress and wasted time for workers, and no separate trip to the baby-sitter, no latch key kids roaming aimlessly (or with dark purpose), access to one’s kids during the workday, secure child care reducing lost pay and even lost jobs because of ephemeral childcare or incompatibility between care availability and required work hours, and let’s don’t forget the carbon reduction.
Think about it. Most households cannot begin to afford to own a home without two incomes, and if Mom and Dad both work, there is the continual problem of providing consistent care and supervision for any children, be they 3 or 13.
When affordable child care disappears from a family’s life, one source of income may be compromised to fill in the child watch gaps by being absent from work. The job may be lost. Mortgage or rent gets missed, credit scores drop, loss of home may result. Sometimes homelessness.
Joe pointed out that around the year 1970, most banks would only count the husband’s income in considering a home loan. The wife was expected, if working, to get pregnant and lose her income, so it couldn’t be counted from the get go.
When that policy changed and both incomes (moms and dads) could be counted, home ownership became within reach. But now the mother’s need to work became essential to meet the mortgage payments. There had to be child care or she would have to leave the work force to be a stay-at-home mom, and the home could be lost.
The need for child care is even more dire for the single parent, who must dance around complex changes in school breaks to manage supervision of any children, and perennially deal with the inevitable summer break. Many parents have lost jobs because they were not able to make their shift having no safe place to put their children, and for single parents, disaster ensues.
Safe, affordable, consistent workplace child care, with reduced commuting pressure through continued telecommuting is an outcome that we believe is worthy of congressional support.
Too expensive, you say? The Afghanistan war cost the United States $2 trillion. We think the path presented here could gain a lot more for a lot less. We ask that you give this mad idea a think.
David Heinen lives in North San Juan.
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