By LaKeshia N. Myers
In 1984, my mother was one of the 52% percent of American women who worked outside the home. Both my parents being public school educators, they knew they would need to rely on quality child care upon my birth and mom’s return to work. Enter Mrs. Virginia Dotson; “Mama Dotson” as she was called, was the parent of one of my mother’s former students, and had made a name for herself as a child care provider for neighborhood children in the Rufus King community. She was equal parts surrogate grandmother and southern nanny, all rolled into one beautiful personality. At Mama Dotson’s house, the kids were always looked after, well-fed, and safe. My time with Mama Dotson was wonderful and provided many memories that I cherish. Mrs. Dotson, a mother of four, never needed a license to prove she knew how to care for children, it was something that was innately apart of her being. She simply acted as a grandmother to all her young charges, providing love, occasional discipline, and lessons in Bible reading and “clean living”.
Unfortunately, we live in a very different time. Gone are the days when working parents willingly choose to rely on neighborhood women who serve as child care providers. This can be attributed to shifts in societal norms and an elevated consciousness of child abuse and neglect.
Today, most working parents want center-based child care that is focused on education and skills acquisition rendered by licensed early childhood educators. With this shift to academic and skills-based care, has come a hefty price tag. According to Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, child care in America has become ludicrously expensive. The average cost of a full-time child care program in the U.S. is now $16,000 a year—and more, in some states, than tuition at a flagship university (Thompson, 2019).
The 1970s and ’80s—the two decades when the female labor participation rate grew the fastest—also saw the greatest acceleration in child care spending, according to researchers. Raising young children is work—and it always has been work—but the rise of dual-earner households has forced more families to recognize this work with their wallets. Wallets that are often stretched to the limits due to stagnant wages and child care subsidies that have not kept pace with the needs of the workforce. This phenomenon was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as schools went virtual, and students were learning at home. Women, who are overwhelmingly the chief executives of their homes were largely responsible for aiding kids with schoolwork and thus have not returned to the labor force as quickly as men.
In order to evolve in a post-COVID society, America must embrace a more robust child care subsidy program. There are simply too few options for dual earner households. We need substantial investments in child care in order to get parents back to work. After all, we are one of the only industrialized countries to not offer some sort of government-provided child care allowance. We cannot attempt solving 21st century issues with 19th century solutions. It’s time for us to move into our reality.