By LaKeshia N. Myers
In 1984, my mother was among the 52% of American women who worked outside the home. Both of my parents being educators in public schools, they knew they would need quality child care when I was born and when my mother returned to work. Enter Mrs. Virginia Dotson; “Mama Dotson,” as she was called, was the mother of a former student of my mother and had made a name for herself as a babysitter for the neighborhood children of the Rufus King community. She was equally a surrogate grandmother and a southern nanny, all brought together into one beautiful personality. At Mama Dotson, children were always cared for, well nourished and safe. My time with Mama Dotson has been wonderful and provided me with many memories that I treasure. Mrs Dotson, a mother of four, never needed a permit to prove that she knew how to care for children, it was something that was intrinsically part of her being. She simply acted like a grandmother to all of her young children, providing love, occasional discipline, and Bible reading and “healthy living” lessons.
Unfortunately, we are living in a very different time. Gone are the days when working parents voluntarily choose to rely on neighborhood women who provide child care. This can be attributed to changes in societal norms and an increased awareness of child abuse and neglect.
Today, most working parents want child care focused on education and skills training from licensed early childhood educators. With this shift to academic and skill-based care, the price to pay is high. Daycare centers in America have gotten ridiculously expensive, according to Derek Thompson of The Atlantic. The average cost of a full-time child care program in the United States is now $ 16,000 per year, and more in some states than tuition at a flagship university (Thompson, 2019).
The 1970s and 1980s, the two decades with the fastest growing female labor force participation rate, also saw the strongest acceleration in child care spending, the researchers say. Raising young children is work – and it always has been work – but the increase in dual income households has forced more families to recognize this work with their wallets. Portfolios often stretched to the limit due to stagnant wages and childcare subsidies that have not kept pace with the needs of the workforce. This phenomenon was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as schools went virtual and students learned at home. Women, who are largely the entrepreneurs in their households, were largely responsible for helping children with their homework and therefore did not return to the workforce as quickly as men.
In order to evolve in a post-COVID society, America must embrace a more robust child care subsidy program. There are simply too few options for dual income households. We need substantial investments in child care to get parents back to work. After all, we are one of the only industrialized countries that does not offer some kind of government-provided child care allowance. We cannot attempt to solve 21st century problems with 19th century solutions. It is time for us to step into our reality.