Childcare is unaffordable and presidential candidates are finally talking about it

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[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).

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When we buy baby gear we expect it to be safe, and while no parent wants to hear that their gear is being recalled we appreciate when those recalls happen as a preventative measure—before a baby gets hurt.

That's the case with the recent recall of Baby Trend's Tango Mini Stroller. No injuries have been reported but the recall was issued because a problem with the hinge joints mean the stroller can collapse with a child in it, which poses a fall risk.

"As part of our rigorous process, we recently identified a potential safety issue. Since we strongly stand by our safety priority, we have decided to voluntarily recall certain models of the Tango Mini Strollers. The recalled models, under excessive pressure, both hinge joints could release, allowing the stroller to collapse and pose a fall hazard to children. Most importantly, Baby Trend has received NO reports of injuries," the company states on its website.

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The strollers were sold through Amazon and Target in October and November 2019 and cost between $100 and $120. If you've got one you should stop using it and contact Baby Trend for a refund or replacement.

Four models are impacted by this recall:

  • Quartz Pink (Model Number ST31D09A)
  • Sedona Gray (Model Number ST31D10A)
  • Jet Black (Model Number ST31D11A)
  • Purest Blue (Model Number ST31D03A

"If you determine that you own one of these specific model numbers please stop using the product and contact Baby Trend's customer service at 1-800-328-7363 or via email at info@babytrend.com," Baby Trend states.

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[Editor's note: While Motherly loves seeing and sharing photos of baby Archie and other adorable babies when the images are shared with their parents' consent, we do not publish pictures taken without a parent's consent. Since these pictures were taken without Markle's permission while she was walking her dogs, we're not reposting them.]

Meghan Markle is a trendsetter for sure. When she wears something the world notices, and this week she was photographed wearing her son Archie in a baby carrier. The important thing to know about the photos is that they show the Duchess out for a walk with her two dogs while wearing Archie in a blue Ergo. She's not hands-free baby wearing, but rather wearing an Ergo while also supporting Archie with her arm, as the carrier isn't completely tight.

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When British tabloids published the pictures many babywearing devotees and internet commenters offered opinions on how Markle is holding her son in the photo, but as baby gear guru Jamie Grayson notes, "it is none of our business."

In a post to his Facebook page, Grayson (noted NYC baby gear expert) explained that in the last day or so he has been inundated with hundreds of messages about how Markle is wearing the carrier, and that while he's sure many who messaged with concerns had good intentions he hopes to inject some empathy into the conversation.

As Grayson points out, these are paparazzi photos, so it was a private moment not meant for world-wide consumption. "This woman has the entire world watching her every move and action, especially now that she and Harry are leaving the umbrella of the royal family, and I honestly hope they are able to find some privacy and peace. So let's give her space," he explains, adding that "while those pictures show something that is less than ideal, it's going to be okay. I promise. It's not like she's wearing the baby upside down."

He's right, Archie was safe and not in danger and who knows why the straps on Markle's carrier were loose (maybe she realized people were about to take pictures and so she switched Archie from forward-facing, or maybe the strap just slipped.)

Grayson continues: "When you are bringing up how a parent is misusing a product (either in-person or online) please consider your words. Because tone of voice is missing in text, it is important to choose your words carefully because ANYTHING can be misconstrued. Your good intentions can easily be considered as shaming someone."

Grayson's suggestions injected some much-needed empathy into this discourse and reminded many that new parents are human beings who are just trying to do their best with responsibilities (and baby gear) that isn't familiar to them.

Babywearing has a ton of benefits for parents and the baby, but it can take some getting used to. New parents can research safety recommendations so they feel confident. In Canada, where the pictures in question were snapped, the government recommends parents follow these safety guidelines when wearing infants in carriers:

  • Choose a product that fits you and your baby properly.
  • Be very careful putting a baby into—or pulling them out of—a carrier or sling. Ask for help if you need it.
  • When wearing a carrier or sling, do not zip up your coat around the baby because it increases the risk of overheating and suffocation.
  • Be particularly careful when using a sling or carrier with babies under 4 months because their airways are still developing.
  • Do not use a carrier or sling during activities that could lead to injury such as cooking, running, cycling, or drinking hot beverages.

Health Canada also recommends parents "remember to keep your baby visible and kissable at all times" and offers the following tips to ensure kissability.

"Keep the baby's face in view. Keep the baby in an upright position. Make sure the baby's face is not pressed into the fabric of the carrier or sling, your body, or clothing. Make sure the baby's chin is not pressed into their chest. Make sure the baby's legs are not bunched up against their stomach, as this can also restrict breathing. Wear the baby snug enough to support their back and hold onto the baby when bending over so they don't fall out of the carrier or sling. Check your baby often."

Meghan Markle is a new mom who was caught off guard during a moment she didn't expect her baby to be photographed. Every parent (no matter how famous) has a right to privacy for their child and the right to compassion from other parents. If we want people to learn how to safely babywear we can't shame them for trying.

Mama, if you've been shamed for wearing your baby "wrong" don't feel like you need to stop. Follow the tips above or check in with local baby-wearing groups to get advice and help. You've got this.

News

We often think of the unequal gender division of unpaid labor as a personal issue, but a new report by Oxfam proves that it is a global issue—and that a handful of men are becoming incredibly wealthy while women and girls bear the burden of unpaid work and poverty.

According to Oxfam, the unpaid care work done by women and girls has an economic value of $10.8 trillion per year and benefits the global economy three times more than the entire technology industry.

"Women are supporting the market economy with cheap and free labor and they are also supporting the state by providing care that should be provided by the public sector," the report notes.

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The unpaid work of hundreds of millions of women is generating massive wealth for a couple of thousand (predominantly male) billionaires. "What is clear is that this unpaid work is fueling a sexist economic system that takes from the many and puts money in the pockets of the few," the report states.

Max Lawson is Oxfam International's Head of Inequality Policy. In an interview with Vatican News, he explained that "the foundation of unpaid work done by the poorest women generates enormous wealth for the economy," and that women do billions of hours of unpaid care work (caring for children, the sick, the elderly and cooking, cleaning) for which they see no financial reward but which creates financial rewards for billionaires.

Indeed, the report finds that globally 42% of women can't work for money because of their unpaid care responsibilities.

In the United States, women spend 37% more time doing unpaid care work than men, Oxfam America notes in a second report released in cooperation with the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

"It's an economy that is built on the backs of women and of poor women and their labour, whether it's poorly paid labour or even unpaid labour, it is a sexist economy and it's a broken economy, and you can only fix the gap between the rich and the poor if at the same time you fix the gap between women and men," Lawson explains.

According to Lawson, you can't fight economic inequality without fighting gender equality, and he says 2020 is the year to do both. Now is a great time to start, because as Motherly has previously reported, no country in the world is on track to eliminate gender inequality by 2030 (one of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by 193 United Nations member countries back in 2015) and no country will until the unpaid labor of women and girls is addressed.

"Governments around the world can, and must, build a human economy that is feminist and benefits the 99%, not only the 1%," the Oxfam report concludes.

The research suggests that paid leave, investments in childcare and the care of older adults and people with disabilities as well as utilizing technology to make working more flexible would help America close the gap.

(For more information on how you can fight for paid leave, affordable childcare and more this year check out yearofthemother.org.)

News

It's been more than a decade since federal guidelines were implemented to ensure nursing mothers have the time and space to pump at work, but as Motherly has previously reported, many mothers still find it extremely challenging to maintain a pumping schedule in the workplace.

This week a new study out of the University of Georgia showed that while most women report having access to private spaces and break times for pumping there are still significant "gaps in access to workplace breastfeeding resources" and the researchers recommend employers take action to reduce breastfeeding disparities.

"We know that there are benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the infant, and we know that returning to work is a significant challenge for breastfeeding continuation," says Rachel McCardel, a doctoral student at UGA's College of Public Health and lead study author. "There is a collective experience that we wanted to explore and learn how can we make this better."

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The challenges of breastfeeding in 2020

There is a lot of pressure on mothers to exclusively breastfeed, but nearly half of mothers feel like they must make a choice between breastfeeding and keeping their job. A baby's mother is the best person to decide whether the infant should be breastfed, formula-fed or both, but it should be her choice. When workplace supports for breastfeeding are not in place many mothers feel like they don't have a choice at all.

Public health campaigns and social norms reinforce breastfeeding as the best choice, but a recent survey from Areoflow found that 1 in 3 people (31%) "do not believe employers should be required to provide a lactation room" but at the same time, 90% of those surveyed stated that they believe women should be allowed to pump at work.

For too many women, those contradicting messages mean that pumping at work is an uncomfortable experience, something they need to do nearly in secret. It's an example of the many ways in which mothers are supposed to parent as though they don't work but pretend they aren't parents when at work.

Calling for change in 2020

Half the states in America explicitly protect the rights of nursing parents in the workplace, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and federal law also provides protections to nursing workers under the Affordable Care Act. Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act—but millions of working mothers are not covered by those protections, and the new research out of the University of Georgia's College of Public Health suggests that even mothers who are need more support from their employers.

Heather Padilla is an assistant professor at UGA's College of Public Health and the co-author of the study. She recommends employers "designate a person who is responsible for making sure that women who are preparing for the birth of their baby understand what resources they have available to them when they return to work," she said.

Supervisors or HR directors could fill this role, and would fill a gap between company policy and personal experience. Padilla and McCardel found that many women "said they hadn't expected to get much help from their employers, and there was a general lack of communication about the resources available to them."

The work Padilla and McCardel have done reinforces the work we at Motherly are doing: In 2020 we are calling for change, and demanding support for mothers feeding their babies.

Mamas need to work + babies need to eat

For many American mothers work is not a choice, it is a necessity. Mothers are increasingly the breadwinners for their families and it is very hard for mothers, even those with working partners, to be a stay-at-home parent in 2020.

We need paid family leave and protection from breastfeeding discrimination. We need employers to support working mothers who choose to pump, and we need to reduce the stigmatization of formula feeding.

Mama, we see you pumping in your office and mixing formula bottles to take to day care. We see how hard it is and we support you. Know that no matter what your baby is eating—bottled breast milk, formula, or some combination (because breastfeeding doesn't have to be all or nothing)—we know you are working so hard to provide it.

We have declared 2020 the #yearofthemother. Join us, and call for change because McCardel is right—this is a collective experience and it is one we can make better for the mothers who come after us.

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