Let me begin by making a few points.
First, I think that all of us pride ourselves as a nation that loves our kids.
We all understand that our children are the future of America.
But, we have a funny way of showing that love.
In America today, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on earth and, as we’ll discuss today, we have a dysfunctional and broken childcare system.
Psychologists tell us that the years zero through four are the most important years of a human being’s life in terms of intellectual and emotional development. Yet, few can deny that the care we provide our youngest children is totally inadequate in almost all respects.
When we talk about our national priorities and what we value as a nation, I can think of no higher priority than the need to cherish and nurture our kids during their formative years of life and to make sure that we have the best and the most affordable childcare system in the world. But that clearly is not the case today.
In America today, childcare is outrageously expensive, we have nowhere near the slots that we need, and childcare workers are some of the most underpaid people in America.
Today, it costs about $15,000 a year, on average, to send an infant to childcare in our country and in DC it can cost, in some cases, $30,000 a year.
How can a working family, making $50,000 or $60,000 a year, afford to spend $15,000 or $30,000 on childcare?
According to a recent survey, 40 percent of parents in America have gone into debt due to the cost of childcare and nearly 30 percent have had to make the unacceptable choice of paying for childcare or paying their rent or mortgage on time.
That should not be happening in the United States of America, the richest country in the history of the world.
All over America, it is extremely difficult for a family to even find childcare because we don’t have enough slots in America for our children.
It has been estimated that half of our people live in a childcare desert – communities where there are either no childcare options at all or where children outnumber available childcare slots by three to one.
It is no great secret that parents all over this country as soon as they find out that they are pregnant immediately sign up for childcare. And even then many of them are put on waiting lists not knowing if a childcare slot will be available when their baby is born.
Further, the childcare crisis not only impacts little children and their parents, but it has a significantly negative impact on our economy. Bottom line: There are many hundreds of thousands of workers, overwhelmingly women, who would to join the workforce but cannot do that because there are no childcare slots for their kids. It is estimated that the childcare crisis is costing our economy over $120 billion each and every year.
Third point – and this is something that we cannot neglect: Some of the most important work that can be done in our society is caring for and educating our little kids.
And yet, all over this country, childcare workers are paid starvation wages – often less than fast food workers.
In fact, 98 percent of occupations in America today pay higher salaries than childcare workers.
The situation has become so absurd that the average childcare worker in America is paid just $13.30 an hour – less than a parking lot attendant or a doggy day care worker.
What this means, unbelievably, is that over half of childcare workers in America are paid wages so low that they qualify for food stamps, Medicaid and other public assistance programs.
This pathetically low pay is a major reason why childcare workers are leaving the profession they love in droves.
In fact, child care employment is now over 5% below what it was in February 2020, meaning that about 54,000 child care workers have left the sector and have not returned.
And let’s be clear: There was a shortage of child care workers before the pandemic began.
Now, here is the good news. As part of the American Rescue Plan, Congress did the right thing and provided over $24 billion for childcare stabilization grants during the pandemic.
This funding kept over 200,000 childcare providers in business, sustained childcare for nearly 10 million kids and prevented a million childcare workers from losing their jobs.
That is the good news. The bad news is that if Congress does nothing this funding will expire on September 30th of this year, making a very bad situation even worse.
According to a recent survey, if this funding expires:
+ One out of every 5 childcare programs in America will serve fewer children.
+ 40 percent of childcare programs will have to raise tuition.
+ 30 percent of childcare programs will be forced to cut the wages of childcare workers.
We cannot afford to let that happen.
We need to renew this vital funding. But let’s be clear that is not all that we need to do. We need a vision for the future which understands that every family in America has the right to high quality, affordable child care.
That child care workers receive the decent pay and working conditions that their important work demands.
That we must substantially expand the number of child care programs so that every family in America can find a childcare facility that meets their needs.
This is the text of Sanders’ opening remarks at a hearing titled, “Solving the Child Care Crisis: Meeting the Needs of Working Families and Child Care Workers.”
Bernie Sanders is a US Senator, and the ranking member of the Senate budget committee. He represents the state of Vermont, and is the longest-serving independent in the history of Congress.