The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

As much as we look back with gauzy nostalgia on the days when mom was waiting at home to greet children when they returned from school, that’s not something that happens all that much in the United States anymore. Part of the reason is that a large slice of American families simply can’t afford to have just one parent working outside the home.

Two paychecks are needed to cover basics like food and housing, to cover the constantly escalating costs of a college education for their children, or to sock away some money for retirement. And working parents with young children, more often than not, drop them off at a child care center while they are on the job from 9-to-5.

Let’s be clear: the cost of child care is expensive in the United States. Shockingly so for anyone living in a household where “Paw Patrol” and “Grumpy Monkey” are not fixtures. The average yearly cost for day care is about $10,000 in Pennsylvania, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Some parents pay more for child care every month than they do for their mortgages. In some communities, landing a spot in a child-care center can be as tough as trying to score a ticket to a hot Broadway show, and many child care employees are typically paid poverty-level wages. The average annual salary is $24,000 per year in Pennsylvania. Many child-care workers in the United States do without benefits like health insurance and paid vacation. Some have to work a second job to get by. Many owners of day care centers say they would like to pay more to keep turnover in check, but they simply can’t afford it given how low their profit margins already are.

Another thought to keep in mind: Employee absenteeism due to child-care issues costs Pennsylvania employers $1 billion every year, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Our peers in other industrialized nations are not faced with similar predicaments. Countries like France, Denmark and Germany heavily subsidize child care. While the United States would likely not tolerate the level of taxation that would be necessary for a social safety net equivalent to what citizens of European nations have, child care in America is broken and needs to be fixed.

The budget reconciliation bill that is being negotiated on Capitol Hill includes provisions that would help lower the cost of child care for families. It would cap child-care costs for families at 7% of annual income and provide subsidies to child-care centers to help them cover costs and pay their workers a better wage. Given the haggling happening right now, it remains to be seen if the proposal will remain as is or be whittled down. But most parents in America can use all the help they can get right now when it comes to child care.

Gina Adams of the Urban Institute told The New York Times that the pandemic “reminded people that child care is a linchpin of our economy. Parents can’t work without it. It’s gotten to the point where the costs of not investing are much, much more clear.”

Senior citizens in America have been getting a helping hand from Uncle Sam for decades now, thanks to programs like Social Security and Medicare, and that’s been an undeniable benefit to families and society as a whole. But children also deserve a hand, and the country’s investment in children has traditionally been relatively small. Helping families pay for child care would be a step in the right direction.

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