Elizabeth Warren has plans for childcare

Out of the twenty-three current presidential hopefuls, only one has come up with a comprehensive plan to address the child care crisis.

Before I had my first child, I was an early childhood educator. I loved it: the joy of teaching young children, the satisfaction of providing high-quality care to working parents, knowing the impact of early childhood education for young children and feeling as if I was doing vital, important work. I planned on returning to the center where I worked after my son was born-he even had a spot reserved in one of the infant rooms-but when I sat down to look at our finances after receiving what would be his monthly tuition, I suddenly had to make a hard choice. Even with a sizable employee discount, the cost to enroll my child in a high-quality daycare center would eat up almost my entire paycheck. And I was lucky to get a discount; not every center offers one. And if I just went and worked somewhere else and enrolled him in daycare without the discount? There was no way.

Related: Are American Parents Forced to Accept Low-Quality Child Care?

I wasn't the only teacher dealing with this. Many of my coworkers sent their own young children to be cared for by a patchwork of relatives and friends; in small home daycares with little oversight; or in lower quality, more affordable centers with high child-to-staff ratios and frequent teacher turnover. Some of them quit, like me, finding it more financially tenable to become stay at home parents while their children were young, thus missing out on years of steady employment and income. I'm lucky in that I was even able to make staying at home work-just barely- as not everyone can. Childcare workers earn, on average, $21,984 a year (an amount that doesn't change much with more education and / or experience) while the average cost for childcare is around $9,000 per year. That's about 40% of an early childhood educators' income for their own child's care, without an employee discount. (And because I was at a high-quality, i.e., more expensive, child care center that percent still tracks.) The Department of Health and Human Services says that childcare should be no more than 10% of a family's income, yet for a majority of Americans that's not even close to being the case. In some states, childcare can be as expensive as college tuition, while at the same time, early childhood educators often make poverty-level wages. And they aren't alone. In some places, a minimum wage worker would have to work more weeks than there are in a year to afford childcare.

"...60 percent of children under age six have both parents in the workforce and working mothers make up 40 percent of the workforce, the lack of access to quality, affordable care hurts most children and all communities- this is not an issue reserved only for parents and families." -Dr. Lynette M. Fraga, The US and the High Cost of Child Care

Related: French Researchers Suggest Early Childhood Daycare Benefits Children

Numerous politicians and policymakers have given lip service to solving our childcare expense crisis. Things like requiring higher education for early childhood educators, tax breaks for a certain percentage of costs paid for childcare for parents, universal pre-K in some states, and a very limited number of daycare vouchers and sliding scale programs for low-income families. But all these have only made a dent in a much bigger problem: Most families today require two incomes to make ends meet and need childcare to do so, with fewer than one in three children age 6 and under who have a full-time stay at home parent. Single parents, of course, have even fewer options. And childcare isn't only about finding a place for your kids to go while you work, study after study has shown the numerous benefits of high-quality early childhood education. It also benefits the economy: as more parents can stay in or return to the workforce the money income they generate, meaning more families to be able to, say, buy a house. So what can be done? Clearly, an issue this large and complex requires large and complex solutions, yet out of the twenty-three current presidential hopefuls, only one has come up with a comprehensive plan to fix the broken childcare system in this country.

Elizabeth Warren's universal child care plan lays out a well-thought approach to all levels of the issue: Starting with a network of childcare facilities that will be subsidized and regulated by the government-just like public k-12 schools-that charge families based on their income, with costs capped at 7% of their income. Families with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level will pay nothing. This plan will also create national standards for quality of care for every child, not just those who can afford it. And for those parents who want to pay for private care, they can still do so, just as some people choose private school for their older children. Wages for early childhood educators would increase, and centers will open in areas that are lacking in childcare options. The plan would be funded by a tax on the ultra-wealthy: those with net worth of over $50 million. This tax is projected to make 2.75 trillion dollars in revenue.

The plan would that mean more parents can stay in the workforce, mothers in particular, so no one has to make the choice to put their child in low-quality care or quit working and stay home if that's not what they want. I don't regret the time I got to have with my son while he was young, I just wish it had been because I wanted to, and not because my back was against the wall financially. And though I wasn't able to choose it for my own children, I care deeply about the importance of high-quality child care for all families, and I'm excited to see it get the attention it deserves as an issue in the upcoming election.

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