In child care policy, as in so many other realms of public life, the United States has taken its own—distinctive– course. Unlike most other wealthy market societies today, the US has failed to develop a nationwide, government-subsidized and -regulated system of child care, resulting in what many call a “patchwork” of services.To address this gap, many prominent political figures are currently proposing major plans for a federal child care program. These politicians include not only declared Democratic presidential candidates, but also first daughter Ivanka Trump. Most of them, however, fall short of the best programs to be found elsewhere among advanced economies.
The childcare and preschool labor market has long been characterized by low wages and high turnover despite ample evidence that quality care is critical to child development. That’s because, as families struggle with the cost of early care and education (ECE), teachers and care providers describe being paid “less than parking lot attendants and dog walkers.” They, too, are struggling.Virtually all (95%) of this workforce is female, with women of color making up a greater share of the care providers and teachers who have less than a college degree.
How do reformers win government subsidies for childcare in a country in which both the public and policymakers view the care of small children as a family—rather than state—responsibility? Feminists have long contended that affordable childcare, like access to abortions, equal pay, and an end to sexual harassment, is a necessary precondition for gender equality (though, as Lynn Chancer observes, childcare is much less visible as a feminist issue today as it was in the 1960s). And advocates have argued since the 1980s that the reality of the two-earner American family requires state-subsidized, high-quality childcare. Still, the federal government has maintained a strikingly limited role in assisting working parents with the cost or provision of childcare.Public preschool presents one recent exception: by re-framing “childcare” as “early childhood care and education,” reformers have successfully expanded state investments.
Receiving a newborn is a major life event. It involves tough decisions about who will be available to care for the baby, work-shifts after sleepless nights, and unexpected runs to the doctor to tend fevers. While newborns turn parents’ lives upside down with joys and stresses, it is the lack of affordable and universal childcare that transforms these life changes into major increases in inequality. My ongoing research shows that the cost of childcare is an underappreciated mechanism of class inequality, with implications for both gender and racial inequality as well.
American, second-wave feminism immediately brings to mind fights over abortion, violence against women, and sexual objectification (notably, the protests at the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City). Much less frequently remembered is that early liberal and radical feminists -- many of whom were involved in starting the National Organization of Women (NOW) -- saw the provision of affordable and high-quality universal day care as a major sine qua non of “women’s liberation.” Why? And what happened to strip this vital issue out of politicians’ platforms and feminist cultural discourse (let alone feminist activism en masse)?
On Sunday April 7, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned. Nielsen oversaw the implementation of controversial U.S. child separation policies at the U.S.-Mexican border. She stepped down when the Trump Administration asked her to violate a court order against the practice to resume such family separations. Nielsen’s departure will not deter the Trump Administration, nor can it heal the traumas accrued from years of forced family separation policies and politics.
“Empower Women to Foster Freedom,” proclaimed Ivanka Trump as she rolled out the Trump administration’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP) in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on February 6. The first daughter claimed that women could bring about peace and prosperity, enhancing both economic growth and national stability, if only we could eliminate barriers to their labor force participation and income generation, moving them from the informal to the formal economy. “One of the most undervalued resources in the developing world,” she argued, is “the talent, ambition and genius of women.” The US would come to their rescue through a package of initiatives to be coordinated by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in conjunction with corporate and NGO partners. Workforce development, vocational education, and skills training, as well as access to capital, markets, networks, and mentorship would “unleash” prosperity for “families, communities, and nations.” Such is the Trumpian version of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Depression-era maxim, “It is up to the women.”
The derision of Latinas/os and Latin American immigrants has been a central and calculated strategy of the Trump administration from the infamous 2015 campaign announcement maligning Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists” and continues through to the dismissal of Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the execution of a “zero tolerance policy” on undocumented families on the U.S-Mexico border, the incarceration of more than 2,400 children, the challenge to birthright citizenship, the deployment of 5,200 troops to the border, and prolonged derision of a caravan of Central American migrants. Even the 35-day government shutdown and the recent declaration of a national emergency rest on racialized narratives casting immigrants as “animals,” “thugs,” “national security threats,” and “terrorists” to justify a costly border wall. These attacks once again became the campaign “dog whistle” of the 2018 midterm elections as several Republicans banked on a relentless strategy of derision to consolidate a nationalist identity, assuage a fragile masculinity, and ultimately mobilize white voters.
As our country braced for another threatened government shutdown last week, federal workers are more aware than ever that they must be prepared for swaths of time without a paycheck. As was clear last month, a staggering number of workers cannot weather a period of missed pay, let alone plan for a time when they can no longer work because of unemployment or illness. And this says nothing of the dream of a well-deserved retirement. But it’s not just government employees who live on this edge. Cringe-inducing stories of working Americans losing their homes, choosing between food and medicine, working just to cover their debt payments, going to work sick because they can’t afford the risk of being fired, and spending hours transferring from bus line to bus line to get to a minimum wage job have been part of the American experience since (and well before) the 2008 financial crisis.