Originally published in the Boston Globe.
ON THE D.C. dinner-party circuit these days, Ivanka Trump is reportedly pushing her pet project: helping women advance in the labor force. As the president’s daughter chats up bigwigs and members of Congress, here’s hoping she’ll bring up the most fundamental challenge for working families: the impossible economics of child care.
To many new parents, the price tag for child care, a non-negotiable, multi-year expense, comes as a gut-wrenching shock. According to the Care Index, created by the think tank New America and Care.com, US parents pay, on average, nearly $800 per month for full-time, center-based care for children under 5. In Massachusetts, that cost is closer to $1,100 per month, about on par with the median state rent and fully a third of the median household income.
These prices, mind you, aren’t making American child-care workers rich; in 2015, their median wage was $9.77 an hour. Operating margins at day-care centers, meanwhile, have historically been thin. It’s not just some elite group of careerists that suffers the consequences. Two-income households are increasingly the norm, due to economic reality; government statistics show that in 2011, 64 percent of mothers of children under 6 were employed, as were more than half of mothers of infants.
They face a child-care system in disarray, riddled with long waiting lists and general discontent, dragging on economic mobility and sometimes public safety. Which raises a question for Ivanka, and for all of us: At what point should government step in?
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