Sen. Patty Murray: That Jobs Report Didn’t Surprise Working Parents. It’s Past Time to Make Child Care Affordable for Every Family

“If we don’t solve our child care crisis, there isn’t going to be an economic recovery,” warns U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), co-sponsor of the Child Care for Working Families Act.

Of the 4.2 million women who dropped out of the labor force between February and April of 2020, nearly 2 million women have yet to return. (Wikimedia Commons)

The recent jobs report seems to have surprised a lot of people in Washington D.C. It didn’t surprise me—and I bet it didn’t surprise Patty Liu, a mom of two young kids from Washington state.

Like so many working women over the last year, Liu’s child care provider closed. She had to cut her hours to take care of her kids, and she got laid off from, in her words, her dream job.

Now, she’s wondering whether she should give up on the career she had worked so hard for and stay home with her kids, because child care was so expensive to begin with. 

Liu’s story, as she’ll tell you, isn’t unique and it isn’t new.

With the child care sector struggling to keep its doors open due to COVID-19, millions of women—who are already more likely to shoulder caregiving responsibilities—have been forced to quit their jobs. Often, they can’t even go to a job interview because they can’t find or afford someone to safely look after their children.

What does that mean for the economy? We saw it last week. Businesses are re-opening, people are getting vaccinated, cases are going down and things are starting to look up—but yet, of the 4.2 million women who dropped out of the labor force between February and April of 2020, nearly 2 million women have yet to return.

Child care has long been a silent crisis among parents—I’ve heard from them since I first ran for the Senate—but this pandemic has brought it to the forefront. Moms, dads and child care providers across Washington state and our country are speaking up loud and clear about how, when it comes to child care, things have gone from bad to disastrous. 

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Whether it’s because they live in a child care desert, work non-traditional hours, or the cost is simply too high—the lack of access to quality, affordable child care is making it impossible for parents, and in particular women, to get back to work. 

This pandemic has made clear what working moms have known for years: Our economy doesn’t work for women or working families, and for women of color in particular, the crisis is even worse. A typical, median-income Black family with two young children has to spend 56 percent of their income on child care. And Black parents and parents of color are nearly twice as likely to quit their job or not take a new job because of issues with child care.

This not only makes it incredibly hard for women, and in particular women of color, to provide for their families, or grow their careers, but it hurts our economy—which is why child care is absolutely critical to our infrastructure. Ask any mom—a road won’t do you any good if you can’t find or afford safe, child care for your kid while you go to work in the first place.

We have an historic opportunity to re-build an economy that actually works for women and working families and supports children’s growth and development by finally making child care a priority, not an afterthought.

To get parents back to work, we need to make quality child care affordable for every family who needs it, ensure children get quality early education through pre-K, and give early childhood educators the pay they deserve. My bill with Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the Child Care for Working Families Act, would do all this—and the Biden-Harris administration has rightly prioritized child care and preschool in the American Families Plan.   

It’s clear from stories like Liu’s and from the data: If we don’t solve our child care crisis, there isn’t going to be an economic recovery—which makes it all the more infuriating when Republican politicians say “child care isn’t infrastructure.”

When I asked Patty Liu what she thought about that particular argument, she said: “I don’t have time for that.”  If we want a full economic recovery—one that actually benefits children, workers, and families and helps people get back to work—our country doesn’t either. Let’s finally get this done.

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In addition to being the first female senator from Washington state, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray served as the first female chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee during the 112th Congress and served as the first female chair of the Senate Budget Committee during the 113th Congress. She is currently ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.