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OFF-KILTER with Rebecca Vallas

Nov 5, 2021

A major contributor to poverty among U.S. families with children today is the incredibly high cost of child care. Statistics abound, underscoring how unaffordable child care in America has become, left to the whims of the private market: In more than half of states, care for an infant in a child care center costs more than in-state college tuition. For low-income families, child care expenses for children under five often amount to 35 percent of their income. A recent New York Times article by Jason DeParle on the subject was aptly titled, “When childcare costs twice as much as the mortgage.”

Meanwhile, America’s broken child care system has a become a major driver of poverty and racial inequality on the worker side of the equation, as well, with many (disproportionately Black and Brown) child care teachers getting paid as if they were fast food workers despite the fact that their work is complex and specialized, not to mention incredibly valuable.

Making a bad situation far, far worse—as with so many pre-existing gaps in America’s public policy infrastructure—the COVID-19 pandemic has only thrown gasoline on the fire, laying bare and deepening the inequities of a house-of-cards child care system reliant on families shelling out unaffordable amounts, teachers being paid poverty wages, and communities across the United States lacking a sufficient child care workforce to meet demand. Indeed, nationally, the early education workforce has declined by roughly 12 percent compared with prepandemic levels.

These are among the longstanding policy problems Democrats are seeking to solve with the Build Back Better legislation moving through the House of Representatives this week—which includes an historic $400 billion investment in America’s child care and pre-K system that seeks to finally make high-quality child care and early learning affordable and accessible for all families with young children, while creating good jobs and boosting wages for a woefully undervalued and underpaid workforce largely made up of women of color.

To unpack what’s in Democrats’ child care and pre-K plan as the Build Back Better bill inches closer to passage, Rebecca sat down with two of the advocates behind the push to put child care and early learning within reach for all families: Julie Kashen, a senior fellow and director of women’s economic justice at The Century Foundation and board member of the Vote Mama Action Fund; and Amanda Perez, senior advocacy manager at Zero to Three, which works to ensure all babies and toddlers get a strong start in life.

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