Long relegated to the back bench of “mommy issues,” child care may finally get its chance on the national policy stage.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has made child care access a signature plank of her nascent agenda, urging middle class tax cuts to make child care more affordable and endorsing universal preschool. The Washington Post also recently devoted rare front-page space and a poll to this topic, finding that more than half of all parents (including three-quarters of moms and half of dads) have passed up job opportunities or even switched careers to help take care of their children.
Surveys show that millennial workers especially treasure work-life balance. And as more of the oldest members of this cohort – now entering their mid-thirties – become parents, child care access and affordability will increasingly become a concern.
These are all welcome developments for those of us who’ve long believed that child care is a universal economic concern – not just for mothers, but for fathers, grandparents, non-parents and employers, and regardless of income or education. The cost and quality of child care have enormous impacts not just on parents’ career choices, but on a family’s quality of life, the productivity that employers see and – of course – the wellbeing and future success of a child. Nevertheless, policymakers have consistently treated child care as a niche-within-a-niche inside larger agendas around “women’s issues” or poverty.
Now that child care has a shot at front burner status, one way to keep it there is to ensure its broad relevance – and to avoid the policy and messaging traps that could make it too polarizing or insignificant. Here are a few ideas that can help make child care an integral component of a “middle class” agenda with broad appeal: