American Child Care Gets a Boost
With his new proposals, Trump puts spotlight on an industry in crisis
Most American families are struggling to afford quality child care — and incredibly, the federal policies currently in place to assist families have been on the books since 1949.
This is why the comprehensive child care plan that Donald Trump rolled out Tuesday night — a topic that has become a signature issue for his daughter, Ivanka — is worth serious consideration and is making many American parents sit up and take notice.
“I am making more money now per week waitressing a few hours a night than I was watching three toddlers eight hours a day,” said one former child care worker.
Are there still questions about how this would be paid for? Yes. But Trump is calling attention to an area of family life and a vital industry that need help. The challenges are many when you peel back the layers of this vital issue. For starters, how do you pay a living wage to child care workers so that they, in turn, can provide quality child care?
One 23-year-old living in Massachusetts’ North Shore area once provided day care in her mother’s basement for three children, five days a week. She charged $15 an hour and was unlicensed. The parents provided snacks, lunch, and drinks for their kids, and she knew all three families personally before providing child care.
“I loved it and I loved the kids, but it was exhausting,” she told LifeZette. “I am making more money now per week waitressing a few hours a night than I was watching three toddlers for eight hours a day [for a full week]. The moms cried when I said I was quitting — and I cried, too.”
Low wages for workers leave them unable to plan for or sustain families of their own. Most home day care providers go into this work because they love children — and by working in this field in their own businesses, they can stay home with their children while earning money. But it’s not a windfall.
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“Wages for child care workers are very sad,” Sue Ryan, director of programs for the Vermont Child Care Industry and Careers Council, said. “Where is a child care worker’s pay coming from? From families who can’t afford $300 to $4oo a week, which would enable child care workers with a bachelor’s degree to make $18 an hour. If it’s all on the family, then that just isn’t happening.”
Vermont does offer financial assistance for child care, but a family must be very significantly below the poverty level to get that assistance.
“The state will pay 100 percent of what it costs to be in a quality program if you are severely under the poverty line,” said Ryan. “But if you are at or just above the poverty line, you will get no assistance for child care.”
Providers may take pity and charge less to a needy family, but their pocketbooks suffer.
“It seems there should be a way to subsidize the child care workers here in Vermont so that they can make a livable wage,” Ryan said. “A plumber can visit five sites a day and collect even the minimum pay, and then do the same with five more sites the next day — and he can make a livable wage. Child care workers are dealing with a set number of families every week.”
Affordability and availability are two more big obstacles to quality child care. A Facebook post on a parents’ network page asking the Reading, Massachusetts, community about one child care program in town was flooded with replies — with many noting the program’s waiting list.
A second child — or twins — can change a family’s child care landscape dramatically.
“You have no hope of getting in this year — maybe not even next year, either!” one mom replied. Another posted, “We loved it there — but good luck getting in!”
“Many families, the minute they find they are expecting [a child] — or when they’re even thinking about getting pregnant — start calling every 4- or 5-star program to get their names on the waiting list,” said Ryan. “Almost every program maintains a waiting list, especially for infant programs.”
“It is very daunting as far as who are you trusting your new baby with,” Ryan continued. “And if you do find a program you are comfortable with, how much does it charge? People are nervous with the whole process — ‘how will I go back to work if I can’t afford it?'”
A second child — or twins — can further change a family’s child care landscape dramatically. While some parents can just barely afford to put one child in care, two can be unthinkable.
“In one county here in Vermont, it is $230 for one child per week — add that to rent. And say you have parents working in the service industry. How will they afford that?” said Ryan. “Many child care programs give their employees a discount — they consider it a benefit. ‘Do you want health insurance, or reduced rate for child care?’ employees are asked. These are the decisions American families are facing.”
Ryan said families must consider working flex hours, or they decide to have one parent stay at home, giving up that person’s career to keep the home fires burning. Or, some moms work at a daycare that may then give them a break on fees for their children.
Tasharro Harris, a mother and child care worker in Atlanta, Georgia, stops work on most days at 2:30 p.m. because her paycheck won’t cover the cost of enrolling her two girls in an after-school care program.
“It’s $120 a week at the center where I work,” she told The New York Times. “I get a discount, so it would be $180 a week total, and I would be able to work maybe an extra three hours a day at $8 an hour. It wouldn’t cover the cost.”
There is a trust and relationship between provider and family that in the best case scenarios is pure magic, said Ryan. But too many obstacles exist in finding that mutually beneficial daycare arrangement.
“Know any millionaires out there who would like to make Vermont a test state for subsidizing day care workers?” Ryan asked with a laugh. “Send them my way — we need all the help we can get.”
“Trump’s plan recognizes the importance of the family in society and the importance of children to future economic growth,” said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in a statement. “His plan encourages family formation which will, over time, help boost the economy. The data makes clear that strong families are the true engine of the economy, and allowing parents to keep more of what they earn to provide for their children’s well-being makes both immediate and long-term sense,” concluded Perkins.