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MIDDLE AMERICA-OUR ENGINE

January 3, 2017

There is a Problem When a Country Club Membership is Half the Cost of U.S. Childcare

 By Sharon McElhone

Our police, firefighters, and veterans, who are in large part men, are thought of as American heroes. Agendas that promise to make life more manageable for them have seen great momentum. They are heroes, but here is a hitch: women who raise children are not treated as heroes. Agendas like a universal childcare system, ending domestic abuse and sexual assault all take a lower priority. Lawmakers and policy makers, both men and women, place almost every agenda above the need to develop a childcare system in America as if the issue of childcare isn’t as integral a part of the infrastructure. We just elected a president who acknowledged during an interview he has never changed a diaper. Even though there have been murmurs of a childcare tax break for parents on the federal level, Americans have seen nothing concrete.

Due to a lack of universal childcare, American women are still sacrificing their careers and education in great numbers in this country, risking financial instability and undo hardship. A better business model or a government supported childcare system in America is urgently needed to alleviate the pressure on women to both work and provide childcare when in the same hours one must be working, someone must also be taking care of the children. Former Senior Analyst for Medallia, Inc. and former web design student, Sevi Taviloglu, eventually left both her place of employment and schooling in order to care for her young son full time. She says, “Even when families say there is gender equality, there is no such thing…even with the most hands on husbands. I’ve personally gotten to know only a few women who have very high-level positions. It boils down to who makes the most money continues to work while the other sacrifices.” She also says that she knows a lot of highly educated women staying at home to watch children because it is a cost issue when women have multiple children, and if both parents work full time, it’s a time issue.

Our current childcare system does not meet the needs of all Americans nor is it accessible to all, which is a failure of the American system to provide a safe working environment for families. The pressure for women to cover the shortfall of childcare at the expense of themselves continues, but it is within our means to fix it. Americans won’t rest until they have a cure for cancer. We have promised to colonize Mars. Now we must commit to establishing a universal childcare system for the overall good of the country.

The combined cost of living and cost of childcare have put American families at a competitive disadvantage and at risk. So why aren’t more leaders championing the agenda of childcare that would create equality and save American families? Because we still need to break with the idea that everything comes before establishing a sustainable childcare system. Things like fixing pot holes in roads, housing veterans, building new stadiums for men’s professional sports teams in their prospective cities, anticipating terrorist attacks, managing the stock market, running our extensive prison system and negotiating pensions are all given higher priority in Silicon Valley and across the country. Childcare has been left solely in the hands of the free market. It is a common held perception that competition in the market place creates fairer pricing, but here is what is happening: Single parents living in California pay more than half of their income for infant care and married parents who live at poverty and have two children pay 111.8% according to ChildCare Aware. Financially it doesn’t make sense. The income to expense ratio puts many parents in the red. Moreover, Kidsdata.org, a program of the Lucille Packard Foundation, cited the annual average childcare cost in California for an infant and a preschooler is $22, 433. What we have is unsustainable. When you take into account that a Country Club membership at the Bay Club comes with access to a private club, protected tee times, unlimited tennis, squash, and fitness classes, business suite hours, year-round enjoyment of a world-class pool, fresh towels, and lifestyle points to go toward complimentary golf for friends costs a family $11, 700 in dues per year, we have to take a hard look at why the business of childcare costs twice as much. Granted, the Country Club membership has a one time $25,000 initiation fee, but even that spread over a few years does not compare to the financial burden placed on young American middle class and lower class families when it comes to childcare.

In the last few years, I’ve started to meet young single mothers who say they live with their parents because they can’t afford childcare. The divorce rate is high in this country, and when job security becomes dicey for a parent who has to take care of children full time, they run the risk of falling into poverty. Not every single parent with child can move in with a relative to offset the cost of childcare too. America has to provide viable options so parents can continue to work in a way that does not threaten them or their children. We must also try and understand the high price we are paying when we promise to end things like homelessness and child obesity, drug addiction and mental health problems; yet, we will not pull up our sleeves and do whatever it takes to ensure that all Americans have access to a free or affordable childcare system so every parent has the opportunity to work without compromising their families. It’s imperative to either modify the current American business model for childcare in order to make childcare more affordable; or, like in many European countries, have the government step in to establish a free or low cost infrastructure that provides childcare to all American families. And if it’s not going to be free, maybe Americans should consider going the membership route. I see no reason that people shouldn’t be able to pay between $60-$300 a month for access to a certain number of hours of childcare like a gym membership. We are supposed to be the wealthiest, most advanced nation on this earth, but we do not have our priorities in order as of yet.

Some believe it is just part of the sacrifice of having children, but when childcare becomes a luxury and costs twice that of a country club membership and the average middle class American cannot afford it, we are looking at the potential breakdown of the American family. Historically, women have stepped in to cover the childcare shortfall, but it is wrong of society to expect women to continue to make those kinds of sacrifices. Mothers dropping out of their jobs or school in order to care for their children has been normalized in this country and so our agendas and policies give them a lower ranking. Taxpayers spent $80 billion to incarcerate young men between the age of 15-30 years old, according to The Hamilton Project report. A recent news flash posted on the Huffington Post disclosed a report that showed the defense department wasted 125 billion dollars. Tax money is being spent disproportionately in America, and more funding should be allocated to childcare.

Championing the issue of a universal childcare system in America has not reached the kind of fever that makes an agenda like that become reality. Therein, lies the hard and fast seeds of inequality.

We may look back on this time in history in wonder, maybe after Mars or some other planet is colonized and cancer is but a memory. After all the potholes in our roads are fixed, the pensions settled, stock options cashed in, homelessness toppled, only then may we finally recognize just how young a country America was without a universal childcare system for workers. Some will say we were great at the art of war, building prisons, and extracting resources from the planet—but we fell short when it came to preparing for the future.

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