The issue was brought up in last night's presidential debate.
[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]
If you did not have time to watch the Democratic debate last night, don't worry mama, we've got you.
The Democratic debates are an opportunity for American voters to have their questions answered by the candidates, and this week's debate saw candidates tackle a question that is so important for many American parents:
How can we make childcare affordable?
The question was submitted by a young mother named Tiffany. She explained, "As a young mom, I had to quit a job I love because childcare costs were taking up two-thirds of my income. Many families don't have the option of quitting a job because that little bit of income is needed. That leads to families using whatever care they can find, and sometimes the results are deadly, as we've seen in Iowa over the last few years. How will you prioritize accessing quality, affordable child care in your first 100 days in office?"
Here's how the candidates responded to this all too common story.
Pete Buttigieg on affordable childcare
Pete Buttigieg was the first to tackle the question of affordable childcare during the January debate. When co-moderator Brianne Pfannenstiel, the chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register, lobbed the question to the midwestern mayor he agreed that no parent should be spending two-thirds of their pay on childcare.
Buttigieg stated that he wants to see the cost of childcare get down to 7% or less of a family's income, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but as Motherly has previously reported, most American families pay a lot more than 7%.
Buttigieg said he has met "professionals who sometimes say that they're working in order to be able to afford childcare in order to be able to be working. It makes no sense, and it must change, and we shouldn't be afraid to put federal dollars into making that a reality."
He continued: "Subsidizing childcare and making sure that we are building up a workforce of people who are paid at a decent level to offer early childhood education, as well as childcare writ large. We can do that. And until we do, this will be one of the biggest drivers of the gender pay gap. Because when somebody like the voter asking the question has to step out of the workforce because of that reason, she is at a disadvantage when she comes back in, and that can affect her pay for the rest of her career."
Buttigieg is correct—mothers do the majority of the unpaid care work in this country and are often seen as the default parent in dual-income, heterosexual households. Being forced out of the workforce when childcare costs too much can cost moms for years to come.
According to the Center for American Progress, mothers lose out on way more than just their annual salary when we leave the workforce to care for kids: There's also lost wage growth, and the loss of retirement plan contributions and benefits.
Let's say Tiffany had been making $50,000 a year before she was forced to quit, and is going to stay home until her child is in kindergarten...Tiffany's going to lose $200,000 in lost wages, $179,837 in lost wage growth, and $159,958 in lost retirement assets and benefits.
That mom is facing a lifetime income loss of $539,795 because she can't afford childcare right now.
Buttigieg needs to offer more details about his plan, but he's definitely right when he says "It makes no sense, and it must change."
Elizabeth Warren on affordable childcare
Next, Pfannenstiel turned to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, asking about a possible income limit for free childcare in Warren's plan. "Why do your plans cover everyone for public college, but not childcare and early learning?" Pfannenstiel asked.
"My plan is universal childcare for everyone. It just has some people adding a small payment," Warren explained.
Warren said she wants people to understand the plan and understand that, "I've been there. You know, I remember when I was a young mom. I had two little kids, and I had my first real university teaching job. It was hard work. I was excited. But it was childcare that nearly brought me down. We went through one childcare after another, and it just didn't work."
A family member, her aunt, stepped up to make sure Warren didn't have to quit her job, and Warren knows that we can't rely on aunts to fix the childcare crisis.
In her reply, Warren recognized that stepping back from the workforce can significantly reduce a mother's lifetime income (as mentioned above, five years out of the workforce for a mom making $50,000 a year can reduce her lifetime income by more than half a million dollars. This isn't just a matter of lost salary, it's also a matter of lost wage growth, and lost retirement funds.)
"I think about how many women of my generation just got knocked off the track and never got back on, how many of my daughter's generation get knocked off the track and don't get back on, how many mamas and daddies today are getting knocked off the track and never get back on," said Warren.
She continued: "I have a two cent wealth tax so that we can cover childcare for all of our children, and provide universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America, and stop exploiting the people who do this valuable work, largely black and brown women. We can raise the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in America. That's an investment in our babies. That's an investment in their mamas and their daddies. And it's an investment in our teachers and in our economy."
Bernie Sanders on affordable childcare
After Warren, Pfannenstiel tossed the topic to Sen. Bernie Sanders, asking if his plan for universal childcare program would be free for everyone regardless of income. Sanders pointed out how little the nation's childcare workers earn despite the very important job they are doing, comparing childcare worker's wages to those at McDonalds.
While Sanders' comparison of childcare worker's wages to fast food workers is flawed (as CNN's fact check team notes, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the mean hourly wage for fast food worker makes $10.70 and the mean hourly wage for a childcare worker is $11.83) he raises an important point: As Motherly has previously reported, the average Amazon delivery driver in America earns more than the average day care worker or nanny.
When asked if his plan for universal childcare would be free to everyone, Sanders confirmed.
"We need to fundamentally change priorities in America. We should not be one of a few countries that does not have universal high-quality affordable childcare. We should not be one of the only major countries not to guarantee health care to all people as a human right. We should not be spending more than the 10 next countries on the military, hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, tax breaks for billionaires, and then tell the moms and dads in this country we cannot have high-quality affordable childcare."
Joe Biden on affordable childcare
Former Vice President Joe Biden is considered by some to be the winner of this week's debate, and he, too, supports universal childcare. Like Warren, he took Pfannenstiel's question as an opportunity to remind the country that he has personally struggled with childcare in the past as a parent.
"There should be free universal infant care, but here's the deal. You know, I was a single parent, too. When my wife and daughter were killed, my two boys I had to raise. I was a senator, a young senator. I just hadn't been sworn in yet. And I was making $42,000 a year," he explained
Biden went on to recall that the unaffordable nature of childcare was one of the reasons why as a young solo parent he needed to commute 250 miles a day, because like Warren, he had to rely on family members for childcare. Next, he outlined how his plan will help parents who are in situations like that today.
"When I triple the amount of money for Title I schools, every child, 3, 4, and 5 years old, will, in fact, have full schooling. They'll go to school and after-school programs, which will release some of the burden," Biden explained.
He continued: "Secondly, I think we should have an $8,000 tax credit which would put 7 million women back to work that could afford to go to work and still care for their children as an $8,000 tax credit. I also believe that we should, in fact, for people who, in fact, are not able to afford any of the infant care to be able to get that care."
He then added: "But Bernie's right. We have to raise the salaries of the people who are doing the care. And I [will] provide for that, as well."
Tom Steyer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar did not take questions about childcare during the January debate. Klobuchar has previously worked with Republican Dan Sullivan to introduce the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act, "to bring the cost of child care down and provide more child care centers in areas that need them the most." Steyer's plans and position on childcare costs remain unclear.
On February 3, 2020 Democrats in the Iowa caucuses will begin voting and time will soon tell which of the candidates will run against President Trump.
(For more information on where the other candidates stand on paid leave, childcare costs and health care see our previous coverage).