Should mothers be excluded from the workplace? That’s essentially what our society is saying with childcare costs so high.
In Washington, D.C., a year of infant care in a daycare center costs $22,631 while it costs $14,726 for a year of infant care in Maryland. The cost of infant care takes up 12.7% of a typical two-parent household income and 40.3% in a single parent household in Maryland.
Who can afford to work and pay for childcare? The high cost of child care makes it predominantly accessible to women from affluent, two-parent households, or people whose relatives live with them and can offer free childcare. The wage gap adds to the burden of child-care costs with women making, on average, 80 cents for every dollar men make. The pay gap is worse for women of color. Therefore, with the added cost of childcare, women are essentially doubly penalized for being women AND having children (triply penalized if they are of color).
With about 11 million children under the age of 5 in need of child-care in the U.S., the burden of child-care costs is a crisis that needs to be addressed urgently. A few programs are available to assist military families, low-income families, and other unique circumstances. For example, the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) Program in Maryland helps low-income families pay for work or school related child care costs. However, there are strict eligibility requirements that preclude the vast majority of parents from using these programs.
When I returned to school, I was able to utilize these programs, however, as a graduate student, I am no longer eligible for this assistance, despite the higher cost of graduate school and an even more demanding schedule.
My case-worker basically told me that mothers are not supposed to pursue higher education. A friend of mine received a promotion which came with small raise that bumped her income up and made her ineligible to receive assistance with childcare costs. She ended up worse off than she was before her promotion! There are countless other stories of women in similar situations for whom, despite their efforts to improve their lives, the burden of child-care costs remained insurmountable.
What can be done to alleviate the challenges faced by every day working Americans? President Trump proposed to “rewrite the tax code to allow working parents to deduct from their income taxes child care expenses for up to four children and elderly dependents.”
In addition, he proposed additional spending rebates through the Earned Income Tax Credit, expanded deduction opportunities for stay-at-home parents, and revised federal savings accounts to set aside funds for child development and educational needs. If the president follows through on his promises, women might finally find some assistance. However, his proposals require that women have the resources to pay for these costs upfront.
The next steps to revising child care policies should include a federally funded program that pays childcare costs directly to the provider. In Denmark, the state pays 75% of the costs of childcare. If an annual household income is below 470,400 Danish kroner (approximately $57,000 USD) the household receives a further deduction, and if income is below 151,501 Danish kroner a year ($22,000 USD), it’s completely free.
A similar program in the United States would be helpful in offsetting childcare costs and could help women return to work without the burden of childcare costs. Furthermore, if the federal government is responsible for childcare payments, then we can begin to regulate childcare costs and curtail unnecessary increases. In addition, this would allow the government to regulate standards of care across settings.
This national conversation needs to be met with the utmost urgency, as the future of our country rests on taking care of our most precious heritage: children.