The Debate Over Universal Childcare: What Is Really Going On?

Have you noticed that we keep talking about universal childcare in the United States, but, with the exception of a handful of states and cities, it never happens? Nearly all of the current Democratic candidates for president are promising it, but this has happened before without legislation ever passing at the federal level. We know that the United States is one of the few Western industrialized nations that does not provide subsidized childcare for working parents. Why not?

Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times writes that the reasons are not economic. She notes that substantial research shows that children and parents benefit from access to affordable or free day care:

  • Women being in the workforce helps the economy and is economically beneficial for families.

Miller notes, though, that conflicting beliefs in US society create resistance to universal childcare. She describes some examples of the conflicts:

  • Both parents work in two-thirds of American families: 93 percent of fathers and 72 percent of mothers with children at home are in the labor force. Yet one-third of Democrats surveyed by the Pew Research Center say that one parent staying at home is ideal. In another study, nearly half of Americans said one parent should stay home. These statistics conflict with the reality of the lives of Americans.

As described by Miller, most women and men who are parents of young children work. Yet Christina Caron of the New York Times notes that the lack of affordable childcare creates a significant financial stress for families. A study by NYT Parenting, based on data collected by YouGov, an international polling and market research firm, found these worrying statistics:

  • Almost 60 percent of parents around the country with children enrolled in preschool or day care reported that the costs created a significant financial strain.

The moral ambivalence in the United States about whether mothers belong in the home rather than in the workforce is still actively blocking progress on achieving universal childcare. Miller notes that “Americans are more likely to believe in gender equality in work and politics than in the home”-but we can’t have one without the other. It’s time to move on from the moral ambivalence embedded in our culture about mothers working.

Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’

Originally published at https://www.annelitwin.com on August 22, 2019.

Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together', OD Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Workshop Trainer

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store