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Carman: Ruthless misogyny is behind our failure to care for children

Reliable, affordable care for kids is vital infrastructure. People dropping out of the workforce is a clear sign of a fiscal death spiral.

It’s being called the Great Resignation. A record 4.3 million workers up and quit in August. 

A variety of reasons have been cited, from lousy working conditions and low pay to increasingly hostile and obnoxious customers. 

COVID has made people realize that life is short and if you are working full time at a job you hate and still can’t afford an apartment and a decent life for your kids, why bother?

The evidence is everywhere.

Diane Carman

It’s why you see help wanted signs all across Colorado. It’s why there are more self-checkout lanes at supermarkets, why restaurants seldom fill all the available tables with diners, why hotels no longer provide daily housekeeping services, why there aren’t enough school bus drivers in your neighborhood or nurses in the hospitals or teachers in the schools ….

In Colorado, the lack of available child care is both a symptom and a cause of the problem. 

The system here is in full-blown crisis — not enough care for infants and toddlers, and huge problems hiring people to provide critically important before- and after-school care.

The owner of a child care center in Northglenn recently told Chalkbeat that she routinely turns down up to five families per day. She said she has space for the children at the center, but insufficient staff to care for them.

Her business is far from unique. Mile High United Way has taken to calling child care centers on behalf of parents who have been unable to find openings anywhere.

They are desperate.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

This problem is hardly new. Generations of American women have lain awake nights worrying about finding a child care provider when the old one quit or the cost became prohibitive or her shift changed at her job. 

My own memories from those days are vivid. 

I remember calling in sick so I could spend a workday frantically searching for child care for my 6-month-old son when our day care provider announced she was moving to another city. Another time I pleaded with a neighbor to take care of my kids when our child care provider took the summer off to care for her mother. 

And then when the kids were in school, there were the summers, the snow days and the Fridays after Thanksgiving when child care centers closed but newsrooms didn’t.

It’s always been a high-wire act. But in the past two years, the nightmare has got much more chilling.

Parents worry about leaving their unvaccinated kids in child care and providers worry about their own vulnerability in rooms full of snotty-nosed kids who just have colds … or maybe not. 

They’re quitting in droves.

And the costs just keep going up. 

Child care in Colorado historically has been among the most expensive in the U.S. A study released in 2019 ranked the state as the eighth most expensive in the country with annual costs for care for infants averaging $15,325 a year.

Conveniently, one big step toward addressing the problem is right there in the federal infrastructure package that Republicans and a couple recalcitrant Democrats are stonewalling in Washington. It calls for universal pre-kindergarten programs and child care subsidies for families who earn up to 1.5 times the median income in the states where they live. 

It’s all too obvious. If people need roads to commute to jobs and broadband to do their work, it only makes sense that reliable, affordable care for their kids is equally vital infrastructure.

If you doubt that, just look at what’s happening with the economy without it. 

When lousy job growth numbers were seen nationally in September, a major factor was a steep decline in the number of women in the workforce, particularly women who are between 25 and 44 — the ages when they’re most likely to have young children.

In health care, education, hospitality, retail — every sector where women tend to dominate the workforce — the impacts are severe.

The benefits of subsidized child care to families and the economy are well documented. In countries around the world that subsidize care, the practice has led to greater participation in the workforce among women, improved long-term financial security for families and better-quality care and enrichment for infants and toddlers. 

It also leads to higher paying jobs and lower turnover rates across the child care field.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

So, let’s stop pretending this is about the federal budget. If you really care about the deficit, you know that people dropping out of the workforce is a clear sign of a fiscal death spiral. 

Refusing to support child care for working parents isn’t fiscal conservatism. 

It’s ruthless misogyny.

And public support for care is hardly a radical idea.

Germany spends $18,656 per child per year on care for toddlers. Norway spends $29,726. Heck, Lithuania spends $8,184.

The U.S. spends a paltry $500 per child per year. 

Five hundred bucks. I mean, really, why bother?


Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.


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