America needs a quality child care system

Nearly every nation with an advanced economy (and some not so advanced) treats child care as a fundamental public good essential to nurturing children, families, and the whole society. But not our US of A.

Indeed, our so-called leaders relegate millions of working parents and 21 million kids under 5 to the tender mercies of a for-profit market, with child care facilities ranging from impossibly expensive to helter-skelter, unlicensed Kiddie Korrals. Embarrassingly, while right-wingers mindlessly salute the US as “exceptional,” they fail to note that what’s exceptional about our “child care system” is that it’s such a shambles it can’t even be called a system, much less caring.

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For the past decade, independent journalist and economic analyst Bryce Covert has documented the worsening social crisis caused by this abject failure of leadership. Her recent report paints a dire picture of huge and obvious need:

  • Two thirds of our pre-K kids have both parents in the workforce, meaning care outside the home is essential.
  • 85% of the parents say that finding quality, affordable child care in their area is a problem somewhere between serious and impossible.
  • Nationwide, the annual cost for a 4-year old’s day care averages about $13,000.

Despite millions of working families finding this essential service unaffordable or even unavailable, political leaders have ignored their plight. Child care aid reaches only 15% of qualified kids (some callous governors even divert chunks of federal child care subsidies to their own political priorities, such as corporate welfare.) In 2017, even before Covid-19 abruptly shut down thousands of care centers, 40% of America’s children lived in “child care deserts”–zip codes with zero programs or so few that two-thirds or more of the area’s children are unable to get in.

Is this the best we can do for “the future” of our nation?

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