California Forum

Time for ‘family values’ Congress to value families

President Barack Obama and Sen. Barbara Mikulski ate lunch with women in Baltimore to discuss the needs of all Americans as they balance their families and jobs.
President Barack Obama and Sen. Barbara Mikulski ate lunch with women in Baltimore to discuss the needs of all Americans as they balance their families and jobs. Baltimore Sun

There are few realizations as sobering for working parents as that moment when the actual cost of child care becomes clear.

In California, a year of infant day care – in a day care center, not with a nanny – averages $11,628, roughly the cost of buying a new Nissan Versa every year until preschool. A typical family with two kids in child care can expect to spend less on a year’s rent than on baby-sitting.

And California isn’t the exception. According to Child Care Aware of America, which tracks child care costs in this country, this state isn’t even among the least affordable places to raise a child while drawing a paycheck. (Memo to working couples: Don’t procreate in Massachusetts.)

An analysis last year by Vox found that since 1994, child care costs have risen at nearly double the rate of prices economy-wide. Another, by the Pew Research Center, marked a concurrent uptick in working mothers opting to stay home rather than pay for day care.

Last year, according to federal figures, the projected cost of raising one American child at a basic level was $245,340 for a middle-class household, or about five times the median income.

That’s not counting anything past age 18, such as, say, college, or factoring in the 1-in-4 households headed by single mothers in a nation where women only earn an average of 77 cents for every male-earned dollar.

In short, raising children in this country is outrageously expensive. And the high costs cripple millions of households. Yet we also make it unacceptably hard for parents to hang onto the jobs they need to support those families.

Again, California is better than most states. We at least have paid family leave and, starting this year, a teensy modicum of guaranteed sick pay.

But nationally, because mostly-male governing bodies still too often dismiss child care costs, inaccurately, as a mere women’s problem, the issue rarely gets talked about except among parents struggling to remain employed while scrambling to keep their kids safe.

So kudos to President Barack Obama for raising the subject. Though he surely is motivated in part by the upcoming 2016 elections – and though the Republican Congress already is sneering at his call for expanded child care subsidies, more paid family and sick leave and a $3,000-per-child annual tax cut – it’s thrilling to see this problem get any attention at all.

That said, isn’t it time voters of both parties insisted on some genuine, meaningful, nationwide relief for families?

Leaving parents to twist in the wind on child care is just one sin of omission among many. There’s the school day, which ends long before most parents’ workday, for reasons that elude everyone but teachers’ unions. There are the sporadic in-service days and the child care wasteland that is summer break.

There’s the political foot-dragging when it comes to requiring even the slightest amount of help from employers. California notwithstanding, as Obama noted in his State of the Union address, the U.S. remains “the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.”

Those policies have been a boon in this state, both to parents and to employers. There’s no excuse for parents anywhere to have to choose between a job and a feverish child. This is the 21st century.

Just a few federal tweaks on this front could make life easier for millions. Yet what has been the Republican-controlled Congress’ first order of business? Deporting undocumented children and eroding women’s reproductive rights.

Maybe the Republicans in California’s delegation can explain how picking on kids and pregnant women improves life in any real American household. Or maybe we should just note where our Republicans came down, for the record:

All voted to permanently ban taxpayer subsidies for pregnancy terminations.

Five were so eager to force pregnant women to have unwanted children that, even when women in their own party balked at the obstacles to proving a rape exception, they hung in as co-sponsors of a symbolic-but-ultimately-doomed ban on abortions after 20 weeks. U.S. Reps. Paul Cook, Duncan Hunter, Doug LaMalfa, Tom McClintock and Devin Nunes were those stalwarts.

And all except U.S. Reps. Nunes, Jeff Denham and David Valadao voted to make immigrant kids’ lives harder.

That’s how the party of “family values” spent its first weeks in power. Maybe families should reach out and offer them a little help with their agenda.

Because there are few realizations as sobering for a politician as that moment when the cost of ignoring America’s actual problems becomes clear.