It’s been a while since I’ve written about the choices parents of young children have to make, so I’ve forgotten how electric the issue is. Responses to last week’s article poured in, mostly quick and a few furious. They confirmed my feeling that as a country we need to do better for children than we are doing now.
One reader suggested enlisting private companies as allies:
“I wonder if it is possible to alleviate some of the cost issues of doing business if more child care centers were (partly) subsidized by corporations. For example, the day care center my daughter goes to is affiliated with a local health care and as such they don’t pay rent for their facility. This money is then passed on to their staff in the form of better salaries. They have less turnover and the kids have more consistency. Just a thought .
It’s a great idea, when it works. But that only works when it makes financial sense for businesses. I’ve seen several colleges close their daycares because they just couldn’t make the numbers work.
A few readers reminded me of the CCAMPIS scholarships, which can help Pell-eligible student-parents with some childcare costs. Given the number of community college students who are also parents, this is a welcome resource. As with the idea of private enterprise, however, it’s only great if you’re part of the specific group it helps.
Some other readers have noted that what looks like a child care issue is actually a salary issue. If wages available to most people in their 20s and 30s had kept pace with productivity gains over the past few decades, the cost crisis for child care would not be anywhere near what it is today. Others have taken the opposite view, arguing instead that “babysitting” should not require advanced training at all; by this argument, credential inflation is the real culprit.
Another suggested that child care centers sponsor their workers to get advanced training. In this way, students would not be required to repay low wages. I don’t know the profit margins of many daycares, but from what I’ve seen on campuses, I suspect most of them run pretty close to the bone. I doubt most of them have the budget room to do it on a large scale. That said, I agree that turnover is a huge challenge in the industry and subsidized degrees can be a great employee retention tool.
Readers from different places reported different circumstances. A reader from Illinois pointed me to the ECACE program there, which can provide full early childhood education scholarships. New Jersey and Pennsylvania offer grants through the TEACH program, which can offset some of the cost of training if students meet multiple criteria. Several Canadian readers have noted that in (some parts of Canada) the government subsidizes the salaries of child care workers, paying them like public school teachers, and parents pay $10 a day. The higher salaries help recruit and retain qualified teachers, and the low initial cost to parents allows even parents of modest means to ensure that their children will have access to safe, high-quality care while parents working. Sounds like a great idea to me, especially considering what we’re doing here. I have yet to hear a coherent philosophical argument that five year olds should be eligible for free schooling but four year olds should be subject to the private market.
Finally, and of course, it is impossible to talk about childcare without addressing gender. Some argue that attacking daycare is an implicit attack on the traditional family and/or part of a nanny-state agenda to supplant parents as sources of authority. Family historians have done a pretty good job of debunking the idea that “traditional” means “eternal” or “inevitable:” In fact, the conditions of the white American middle class in mid-century were, historically speaking, a little paw. But the ideal still holds a powerful cultural pull, even if it is widely honored in the breach.
I’m more convinced by the argument that we’re not going to find lasting solutions to work/life balance – including childcare – until we stop defining it as a “problem of women”. It’s everyone’s business. Men, and especially fathers, need both to assert themselves as parents and to contribute to structural solutions. The nickname “Dean Dad” that I adopted so many years ago was a gesture in this direction; these were the two roles that occupied most of my waking hours. I wanted to write about the challenges of work and parenting from my own perspective, which meant admitting in public that being an involved parent takes time. This consumes bandwidth. It’s difficult. Spending time with my kids over the years has helped me build great relationships with them, though, and given me the context to be able to see that when we started coming back from COVID, we could use the flexibility offered by technology to make the lives of working parents a little easier. The burdens we place on dual career couples with young children are simply unreasonable. Worse, they are voluntary. We could choose to make it easier.
Thanks to my wise and worldly readers for shedding light on all these angles. I know there are many more, and I am grateful for the grace offered by those who would have been within their rights to point out anything else I was missing. And a special thank you to Canadian readers who wrote to point out that things really, honestly, for real, don’t have to be like this.