The Cost of Motherhood: Why Childcare Is a Top 2020 Campaign Issue

Ameshia Cross | Sep 24, 2020

The great soul artist, James Brown lit up the stage proudly exclaiming, “This is a man’s world.” The popular song was released in 1966 but its prose resonates loudly in 2020. Women make up over 50% of the US population and over 58% of the American workforce yet being a born a woman remains a daily burden with serious social, political and workforce implications. And if you dare to dance the dance of being a working mom, the outlook continues to be quite grim.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought issues of childcare and women in the workforce to the forefront. And don’t think for a second this issue isn’t paramount among kitchen table policy discussions in advance of the November 2020 election. Politicians haven’t kept quiet either—from Senator Elizabeth Warren calling childcare “infrastructure for families,” to New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham vocalizing the need for a national childcare plan.

As more and more women pursue higher education and graduate at numbers exceeding their male counterparts it only makes sense that those high achieving women would want to take their rightful place in the workforce and put those costly degrees to work. At least that what you’d think. But we have to dig deeper to illuminate an even bigger problem facing American women. 43% of women choose to leave the workforce when they become mothers. And it’s not exactly an unforced choice. Women still bear the brunt of household duties even when a spouse or significant other is in the home, making work life balance a thing of fairytales. Working moms know all too well the zero-sum game of gaps in childcare and rising costs of this essential service and the struggles of attempting to work in a world that doesn’t value mothers or the daily struggles they face.

These problems have only been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis. A quarter of childcare workers, 258,000 people, have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. According to the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, the coronavirus could lead to the permanent loss of nearly 4.5 million child-care slots in day cares if Congress doesn’t act soon.

Yet calls for increased funding supports for childcare, a lifeline for working moms, continue to go unanswered. Congress’ approach has been throwing breadcrumbs at the issue. In coronavirus relief packages, $3.5 billion was allotted to childcare aid. But that’s just a drop in the pail of what’s actually needed. The National Women’s Law Center estimates that it would cost at least $9.6 billion a month to keep current child-care providers in business. And working moms are waiting in the balance. Those lucky enough to work from home are doing so with their kids in tow, often interrupting meetings. Others are forced to leave their jobs and still more have no choices at all–relying fully on low-wage employment to keep their lights on and a roof over their heads meanwhile lacking living paycheck to paycheck without any means to afford childcare at all. America is at a crossroads and the full weight of motherhood is on the ballot this election season. Let’s hope America makes the right decisions.

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