Sometimes timing is everything.
When Representative Kristine Reeves brought members of the business and advocacy community together to creatively address solving the child care crisis in Washington state, my guess is she could not have dreamed that her Child Care Collaborative Task Force would be garnering national attention right now.
Suddenly #childcarecrisis is the bipartisan buzzword for 2020 presidential election campaigns and all eyes are on Washington State given the foundation work that has been done.
How has a traditionally referred to women’s issue suddenly become a concern that impacts everyone? Why are employers offering child care benefits to their employees, and companies who do not are suddenly feeling pressure to step up? Why has the current administration stated they are committed to working “with members of both parties to make child care accessible and affordable”?
“We are at the tipping point” Representative Reeves explained yesterday at the 4th meeting of industry leaders, advocates and analysts from around the state of Washington. The group has been convening since July 2018, working toward identifying key findings and the creation of a plan to make recommendations to the 66th legislature.
In the bucket, “let’s call it a bathtub” Rep Reeves said, “that funds K-12 education and early child learning in our state, only 1.8% of all funding is directed toward children under the age of three.” Simply put, the network of industries that hold our economy together by serving families with small children so their parents can go to work – is thin, and vulnerable.
The recent government shut down had a ripple effect throughout Washington State communities that starkly illuminated this complex matter.
It worked like this. The families of under-served communities, who rely on subsidized child care – care which allows them to go to work and give back to the economy – were one of the many casualties in the shutdown. The domino effect meant that the business owners who run the daycares and services (for example – before and after school care) and serve all communities, could not sustain keeping their doors open. Once their doors closed, middle income and high earner income families who also rely on those services to care for their children could not get to work, keeping the wheels of the economy turning … you get where this is going.
When children are not being cared for and their parents can’t go to work, the economy is not being fueled by all of those hard earned dollars. This is why child care policies are not just an individual problem, but a concern for all. A concern that is now being referred to as good economic policy.
Rep Reeves office blew up during the shutdown with constituents from every spectrum of the income scale. As an elected representative, this is her problem to solve.
So how is this done? Fortunately, the business community has been inching toward change for well over a decade, what with backup child care benefits and on-site daycare becoming more normative. So the conversation is not brand new, and this helps during a time like this.
The unemployment rates being at a historical low result in companies adopting more family friendly policies in an effort to attract talent. This has come in the form of the FMLA act and a new and informal bring your infant to work policy currently gaining traction statewide. Someone has to take care of the kiddos, and with the cost of child care rivaling that of rent or college tuition, solutions are getting more creative purely out of necessity.
We may or may not be able to agree that women have long been their children’s primary caregiver and some would argue, still are in disproportionate numbers – even in households where both parents work full time.
When child care is so darn expensive, the fact that men in the workforce are measurably paid more than women results in many mothers being the parent who “stays home with the kids” – its basic economics and it makes sense. “Without affordable child care, parents reduce their hours or opt out of the workforce. 94% of workers involuntarily working part-time due to child care problems are women” according to the 2019 Update of Child Care in State Economies.
While these women are putting their careers on hold, men advance into positions that make them the decision makers at the highest echelons of political and corporate power. This brings us to today, where some major shifts are taking place around women in general and what holds them back.
The constricted employment has resulted in employers getting creative to attract and retain women in the workplace, and we now have more elected women officials than ever before. These elected officials are attempting to address policies that systemically hold women back from achievement in the workplace. It starts with who is caring for the children. Or, if a woman is of child bearing age, what sacrifices does she have to make to further her career?
Representative Kristine Reeves is putting her dream shot on the lofty goal of universal child care by 2025, and why not? If we don’t aim high now, we have to ask ourselves where our economy will be then without it.
-Emily Dills, Founder, seattlenanny.com
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