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Why universal childcare is the crucial infrastructure the economy needs

The U.S. lags behind many other countries in both paid leave and accessible childcare, and it’s costing women and hurting the economy.

Why universal childcare is the crucial infrastructure the economy needs
[Source images: JBryson/iStock; PytyCzech/iStock]

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The high cost of childcare often keeps women out of the workforce. Unfortunately, that cost—and the overall availability of childcare—has only gotten worse during the pandemic. According to the Labor Department, over 2.5 million women left the workforce at the start of the pandemic. While many of those women have since returned to work, nearly a million have left their careers because they don’t have childcare options.

In September 2020, 865,000 women left the work force, according to the Center for American Progress. That’s more than four times the number of men who left the labor force. The responsibly for childcare almost always falls to women. Of the adults who currently aren’t working because of caregiving obligations, 80% are women.

Even in pre-pandemic times, day care for children under five costs more than college tuition in most states in America. This high cost often ends up being close to or more than the take-home pay of many parents, and thanks to the persistent gender pay gap, that parent is most often the mom. On average, women lose around $11,000 a year, thanks to the gender pay gap, which is also close to the average annual cost of child care in the U.S. (In some places in the U.S., like New York City and Washington DC, day care costs more than $2,000 a month.)

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But it hasn’t always been this way, in fact, there was a time when the U.S. had universal childcare. On the latest episode of The New Way We Work we look at the history of universal childcare in the U.S., from a successful (but short-lived) program during World War II, to a nearly passed program in the 1970s that was vetoed in the 11th hour.

Most recently, President Joe Biden included emergency provisions in the latest stimulus bill that addressed both providers and parents. The emergency stabilization fund helped child care providers in danger of closing stay a float and offered a few thousand dollars in child care tax credits for some families. But it’s not enough.

On the campaign trail Biden introduced a sweeping plan for universal preschool, affordable and accessible infant and toddler care, and a boost in wages for child care workers. But his recently announced $2 trillion  American Jobs Plan, which includes money for roads and bridges, home health care for seniors, and measures to fight climate change, notably leaves off child care.

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Investing in child care isn’t just crucial to keep women in the workforce, which has proved to be good for business, it’s also imperative to the overall health of the economy.

You can listen and subscribe to The New Way We Work on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsStitcherSpotifyRadioPublic, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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About the author

Kathleen Davis is Deputy Editor at FastCompany.com. Previously, she has worked as an editor at Entrepreneur.com, WomansDay.com and Popular Photography magazine.

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