EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
A few weeks ago, Nation columnist Katha Pollitt wrote a compelling New York Times piece endorsing “day care for all.” Noting that childcare is “one of the biggest costs a family faces,” often surpassing even college tuition, Pollitt argued that a lack of affordable childcare is a problem on par with challenges that receive far more attention from leading progressives. “So why isn’t it on the front burner of the revitalized left?” she asked.
The question turned out to be prescient. Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled her proposal for universal childcare in the United States. While other candidates have discussed the need for affordable childcare—and it was one of Hillary Clinton’s priorities in 2016—Warren’s plan is clearly the most ambitious proposal to date. It would establish a network of federally funded, locally run childcare centers across the nation. Enrollment would be completely free for millions of children and affordable for all, with the total cost per family capped at 7 percent of a family’s income, no matter the number of kids. The centers would be staffed by qualified care providers, who would be paid similarly to teachers. Access would be guaranteed, but families with the means to choose other options would be free to do so. And it would be fully paid for with revenue from the wealth tax Warren has called for on households with a net worth greater than $50 million.
Warren’s proposal should spark an overdue and necessary conversation about a problem that leaders in both parties have long neglected. More than half of Americans now live in childcare “deserts,” according to the Center for American Progress, including significant majorities of rural and Latino families. Compared with the rest of the world, the United States spends pathetically little on family benefits, ranking second-to-last among developed nations. “This dearth of family benefits leads to two cruel outcomes,” writes Matt Bruenig, whose People’s Policy Project recently published its own set of ideas for addressing the childcare crisis. “It denies many people the ability to have the families that they want and inflicts financial ruin on many of those who go through with parenthood despite the lack of social support.”
Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.