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RADICAL WOMEN
Who'll watch the kids?
Julian Hampton
volume:  
volume 37
issue 6
December 2016
imagestuff

Sisters Organize for Survival, a project of Radical Women, organized a Mother's Day March in May 2013, which included demands for affordable childcare. Pictured above is one of the younger participants. Photo: SOS

As a parent, finding childcare that’s affordable, high-quality, and able to fit an unconventional work schedule can be difficult to impossible. When I had my first child, it was actually easier and more affordable for me to stay home. So many parents, especially mothers, face this reality that maternity leave and daycare got some attention during the presidential election. Both Clinton and Trump put forth parental leave and childcare plans. Not surprisingly, their proposals show how out of touch they are with working people and their needs.

Money first, working parents last. Trump focused on childcare tax deductions, credits, and rebates that would greatly benefit the wealthy, but give little-to-no help to middle- and working-class families. He offered a mere six weeks of unemployment insurance leave to new mothers only. Not only does Trump’s plan ignore fathers, it doesn’t appear to extend at all to same-sex couples.

Clinton also proposed tax relief, which doesn’t help the poorest families. She called for increased federal subsidies, capping childcare costs at 10 percent of a family’s total income (still too much!), and universal preschool for all four-year-olds. She offered 12 weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave with parents making around two-thirds of their regular salary. While better than Trump’s, this is meager compared to most of the world. The 34 other wealthy and economically “advancing” nations that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average 54 weeks of paid maternity leave. Most developed countries invest much more in daycare than the U.S. does.

Clinton and Trump know that Congress is highly unlikely to pass their plans. They were simply jockeying to win the votes of women and families. Both plans ultimately fail working parents, their children, and childcare workers.

Neither candidate addressed the scheduling barrier. Many childcare facilities are only open on weekdays from 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 or 6:00 at night. But not everyone works that schedule.

Both proposals still place the burden of paying childcare expenses on working parents, while the companies that benefit from their labor contribute nothing. And while the service is very expensive, daycare workers usually make very little. Their average annual salary is around $26,000. The highly demanding nature of this job, coupled with low wages and devaluation of the profession, leads to a high turnover rate.

Failure to address these issues shows that neither candidate nor their parties are serious about making the actual changes necessary to improve childcare and early education.

Radical childcare roots. Since our founding, Radical Women (RW) has recognized the critical importance of childcare. Its co-founder Clara Fraser instituted daycare for trainees at the Seattle Opportunities Industrialization Center, an anti-poverty program of the 1960s.

In 1970, Radical Women members and other student activists took over a physics lab at the University of Washington and turned it into a daycare center for students and faculty. When the administration took the building back, the center temporarily moved to RW’s headquarters. It continued to organize with the associated student body, which eventually won funds for a center near student housing.

In 1976, federal funding cuts sparked formation of the Action Childcare Coalition (ACC) by Radical Women, low-income parents, and childcare providers. Highlighting the voice of those most affected by the cutbacks, ACC fought further budget cuts to childcare and resisted the turn to a privatized system.

In recent years, Radical Women has supported and advocated for publicly funded childcare through the Sisters Organize for Survival (SOS) campaign. SOS members agreed with Radical Women’s view that childcare should be available to everyone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week on a sliding scale, while providing childcare workers with higher wages, union protection, and better working conditions. This should be funded by the government and the industries that benefit from parents’ labor.

History shows that when the system requires it, it moves quickly to allow mothers to join the workforce. During World War II, Congress funded childcare on a massive scale for mothers working in defense-related industries. So why is this not considered important today?

Children have the right to learn and grow in culturally relevant, sensitive, and meaningful environments that stimulate their minds through play and socialization in safe and nurturing spaces. And parents should not have to sacrifice financial stability, education and careers in order to care for their kids. Quality care for children benefits everyone.

Following the money. Since 2001, the U.S. government has spent over $1 trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not even factoring in care for veterans. The financial cost of the racist and unsuccessful war on drugs is over $50 billion dollars annually. All of this money could be put to better use giving support to our future generations. By ending military occupations, stopping the war on drug addicts, taxing the wealthiest members of society, and closing tax loopholes for corporate giants, the United States could achieve fully-funded childcare and early childhood education for all who wish to use it.

The profit system looks at children as individuals’ burden rather than a valued part of all society. As it’s been said over and over again: “Children are our future.” It’s time to muster the forces to make this wealthy country start walking the walk.

Julian Hampton, a mother of two sons under 6, looks forward to resuming her education and working for more than minimum wage. Send feedback to JulianLove90@hotmail.com.

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