Many families in communities across the country lack access to high-quality, affordable child care. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders recently posted an insightful video to twitter that highlights how this issue is playing out in his home state of Vermont and throughout the United States.
The video compares the child care in the U.S. to the approach taken in Finland, where the child care system ensures that high-quality affordable child care is available to every family who needs it. The prevalence of good options is contrasted to the challenges that Kathryn Becker Van Haste, Senator Sander’s policy advisor, had when she searched for child care for her own children both in Washington, D.C. and Vermont. Her experience is similar to the one faced by many families—and many families with fewer financial resources, unpredictable work schedules, children with special needs, or other challenges have even greater difficulty finding child care that meets their needs and that they can afford. Becker Van Haste points out what problems families encounter and why changing their options is so important.
- Price: In the United States parents may pay $1,000 a month or more for child care for one child, while even the wealthiest parents in Finland pay just $300 a month for child care. Yet, as Senator Sanders makes clear, even though parents in the U.S. struggle with these child care costs, most of our child care providers don’t make a livable wage. Since parents can’t afford to pay more, and child care providers deserve to earn more, not less, the only way to resolve this dilemma is to expand federal, state, and local assistance to help families pay for child care and support adequate compensation for providers.
- The Learning Gap: The United States is behind many countries when it comes to investments in early childhood education. This exacerbates a learning gap between children whose parents can afford high-quality child care and low-income families who cannot. As a result, children in low-income families are at a disadvantage to their counterparts in higher-income families when they start school. This, in turn, makes it more challenging for children from low-income families to go on to succeed in school and contribute productively to the nation’s economy as adults.
- No Support for Parents: All developed nations except the U.S. offer parents at least some paid leave during the first year of their child’s life. As a result, many parents in the U.S. have no choice but to return to work so they can earn income to support their families, even if they would prefer to stay home with their children and despite the challenging of finding and affording child care, particularly for very young children.
The U.S. clearly needs a drastic shift in its child care policy. Federal and state legislators should make the funding to improve access to affordable, high-quality child care a key plank in their policy agendas. Federal policymakers can show their commitment start right now by co-sponsoring The Child Care for Working Families Act, introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott(D-VA) — This bill would make more families eligible for child care assistance, reduce their costs, ensure that child care providers were paid a living wage and bolster the quality of child care. Enacting this legislation would be a giant step forward on an issue that is essential to the future of this country’s children, their families, and our current and future economy.