To Build Back Better with Women, Invest in Child Care

“The U.S. talks a good game on ‘family values,’ but just does not deliver. It’s time to change course,” writes Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, on the need to invest in child care.

Rep. Speier outside San Francisco City Hall in March 2019 on Women’s Equality Day. (@jackiespeier / Instagram)

To anyone who has spent the last year struggling to work from home while caring for a child, the question of whether child care is part of our country’s infrastructure is laughable. Even before the pandemic, these parents would have told you unequivocally that their ability to find a job, keep a job, and excel and thrive at that job is directly tied to their children’s needs. The fact that this debate exists is almost inconceivable to modern-day parents—until they remember that Congress can turn any no-brainer issue into a war of political ideology. 

For those who insist on co-opting this moment to push their agenda or who sincerely don’t understand that infrastructure is more than roads, bridges and the vehicles that travel over them, let me be blunt: We won’t have enough people using those roads, bridges and vehicles to restart our pandemic-hammered economy if we don’t address workers’ child care needs.

That’s why those of us in the Democratic Women’s Caucus are fighting for $700 billion over 10 years to be included in the next infrastructure package for high-quality child care. For every $1 invested in early childhood education, there is a $4 to $9 return to society over a child’s lifetime. What’s more, we are way behind other industrialized countries in spending on child care.

The U.S. talks a good game on ”family values,” but just does not deliver. It’s time to change course. Investing in child care could increase our GDP by $274 billion per year, and the price of not making this investment is too great. Approximately 90 percent of physical infrastructure jobs are held by men. If our infrastructure package only focuses on traditional infrastructure, as some of my Republican colleagues have demanded, it’ll be an infrastructure and jobs package for men only.

For every $1 invested in early childhood education, there is a $4 to $9 return to society over a child’s lifetime.

With access to child care, the average working mom with two kids would see her lifetime earnings spike by about $94,000. Children who receive quality early childhood education would see increased earnings in adulthood up to 3.5 percent. Child care workers would see their earnings increase by 26 percent. And low-income families, who spend more than a third of their income on child care, would have more money for other necessities.

And don’t forget, an entire generation’s worth of progress made by working women has been wiped out by the she-cession. We are experiencing the lowest workforce participation among women since 1988, when there were only 25 women serving in Congress, being a woman was still considered a pre-existing condition, and laws like the Violence Against Women Act weren’t even on the books. Nearly 2 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic, meaning they are no longer looking for jobs. According to one survey, one in four women who became unemployed during this period cited lack of child care. 

The writing is on the walls: The status quo is not sustainable, and we will not build back our economy without child care. All the investment in roads, a resilient energy grid, and R&D in the world won’t make up for the fact that families need someone to watch over their children. 

For too long, women—and particularly women of color—have been treated as second-class citizens as they’ve struggled to juggle it all. Women can’t wait any longer for policy to catch up with reality. We must address the needs of working women—otherwise this she-cession will usher in nothing more than a he-covery

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Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), represents parts of San Francisco and San Mateo Counties, including the heart of Silicon Valley. She is a fearless fighter for women’s equality, LGBTQ rights and the disenfranchised who has dedicated her life to eliminating government corruption, while working to strengthen America’s national and economic security. She was named to Newsweek’s list of 150 “Fearless Women” in the world and one of “Politico’s 50” most influential people in American politics for bringing the Me Too reckoning to Congress. Congresswoman Speier is the co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, and serves on the House Intelligence and Oversight committees as well.