Hey, Congress—Invest in Child Care, Not Private Jets

Fear and Hoarding in the Time of Coronavirus: Invest in Child Care, Not Private Jets
“Our economy can function well without private jets,” writes Kashen, “but parents, and especially mothers, will not be able to be a part of the economic recovery without a significant investment in our child care infrastructure.” (UN Women)

In the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, the private jet industry alone received access to a more than $25 billion bail-out—while child care received a meager $3.5 billion boost. 

Many of us are parents, who are already stretched too thin to afford quality child care options, or child care providers, who are doing essential work for just over $11 an hour. Few of us need a private jet. 

According to a new analysis from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), without $9.6 billion a month in public funding, the child care sector will not be able to safely serve the needs of essential workers today or be able to reopen.

Without that investment—according to NWLC, CLASP and economist Aaron Sojourner—our economy will experience destabilization, as parents won’t be able to return to work without affordable, safe, nurturing child care options for their children. 


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Child care solutions are the type of broadly beneficial policies that Congress must prioritize as it debates further relief and recovery aid. Our economy can function well without private jets—but parents, and especially mothers, will not be able to be a part of the economic recovery without a significant investment in our child care infrastructure.

One the most horrifying aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the fear that it has inflicted upon us: the fear that the virus may infect, hurt or even kill us and our loved ones.

The fear that the only tools that we have to control the spread—extreme social distancing and an economy put on hold—will inflict even greater pain, in the form of huge spikes in joblessness, poverty, hunger, loneliness and destitution.

And the fear that the world that we return to when it is safe to reopen will be a shadow of the one we had before the pandemic. 

Amidst these fears, two distinct responses have emerged: one led by love, community and interconnectedness; one by fear, greed and individualism.

Coronavirus as Community Builder

On the one extreme, we see people, especially women, channeling their anxieties into action, using this period of physical isolation to build community.

These are the women sewing masks and sending personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care providers.

It’s the women of color who have started programs like the Coronavirus Care Fund and the Farmworker COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund to assist those most likely excluded from government relief.

It’s the women forming child care cooperatives that enable them to both work and parent. And the women re-opening their child care centers, despite risks to themselves and their families, to ensure that other parents can go to work. 

Coronavirus as Consolidator

On the other extreme, we see the impulse to hoard—not just face masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper, but, more importantly, power, resources and privilege.

Although disconcerting, this instinct is not surprising: The consolidation of wealth and power by the wealthy and powerful is a hallmark of American history.

What makes the latter reaction so concerning is that our federal government is actively encouraging and enabling it. Our government—or, at least, a well-functioning democracy—is supposed to design public policy to benefit the vast majority of Americans, with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable.

Today, however, the opposite is happening. We are seeing the hoarding of resources among the few at the expense of the needs of the many, especially women of color, who are juggling both work and caregiving, losing jobs in greater numbers and more at risk of illness on the frontlines. 

The CARES Act included more than $2 trillion in emergency relief—the largest in U.S. history. In that bill, some members of Congress, led by women, fought for—and won—emergency paid sick days and paid family leave provisions so that every American could safely stay home to care for themselves or their family members without worrying about a missed paycheck.

Then, in negotiations, the Trump administration excluded about half the workforce from this critical coverage—first cutting out workers at Walmart, Amazon and other corporations with more than 500 employees, then later including a loophole that permitted small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and employers of health care providers and emergency responders to opt-out. 

Too many of our leaders, it seems, have sided with the hoarders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The illusion of scarcity incentivizes hoarders to hoard and forces the rest of us to compete for the scarce resources that remain. Those who lose the most in this scenario are communities of color, women and workers in low-wage sectors.

As we debate the next relief and recovery packages, we need to break this old cycle. Instead of fighting for scraps, the rest of us should be hoarders too—hoarders of the right type. Rather than respond to fear with a desire to further accumulate individual resources and power, we can respond by building collective resources and power—that are inclusive, equitable, organized and community-driven, and lead with the needs of women of color and their families, not the private jet set. 

Now is the time to build collective power—to, in fact, hoard power. Our future demands it.


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About

Julie Kashen is Director of Women’s Economic Justice and a Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, a leading progressive think tank. She is one of the nation’s leading experts on the issues affecting working families, having authored numerous studies on child care, paid leave, equal pay and other topics.