opinion

COLUMN: Universal child care or bust



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Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks Jan. 17 in Washington, D.C.  Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a Democratic presidential candidate, unveiled a major proposal to provide universal child care last week with the potential to dramatically transform American society.

Warren’s plan would have the federal government partner with states, tribes, nonprofits, and other entities to create a network of child care centers available to every family. Child care would be free for families earning below 200 percent of the federal poverty line of $51,500. Wealthier families would bear some costs. This bill has the right approach in dealing with the burden of child care.

The cost of child care in Indiana is $8,918 annually. Comparatively, in-state tuition at IU costs $10,680 annually, only $1,700 higher with a degree at the end. Does this mean university is a good deal or child care is a bad one? Could it mean both?

Child care costs have exploded, increasing by 24 percent in the past decade. The Department of Health and Human Services labels child care costing over 10 percent of household income as unaffordable. Warren’s plan would charge no families over 7 percent of their income. This proposal would cost $70 billion a year and be fully financed by her proposed wealth tax. 

Currently, 40 percent of children spend some time in the care of someone who is not a parent. Warren’s bill would certainly help them. What about stay-at-home mothers, since women do most household work? Here, the answer is not so favorable.

Warren’s bill would help mothers enter the labor force, if they so choose, while leaving stay-at-home mothers out. This isn’t right.

A rival proposal from the People’s Policy Project would provide stay-at-home mothers with the money it would cost to send their children to a public center. Women’s labor is not free, and they should be paid for the work that they do. Paying for otherwise unpaid household work could even marginally reduce the gender wage gap.

Warren’s proposal would not only revolutionize society at large but also have a massive impact on universities such as IU.

IU has some high-quality child care centers, but that doesn’t mean the system is working. Julie Beasley, the Parent-Student for the Graduate and Professional Student Government, said it took 18 months for her son to simply get off the waiting list.

IU cannot claim to be a meritocracy if potential students are kept from education due to issues having nothing to do with their academic abilities.

Child care is also deeply personal. Beasley said she had peace of mind knowing that her son was being cared for well by people she trusts to do so. Having access to affordable childcare lets student-parents be both better students and workers.

However, universal child care is not only good for those who utilize it.

Students are made brighter by having smart classmates who require child care services and could otherwise not attend. Additionally, faculty and graduate students can develop and deliver class materials better when they not worrying about whether their kids are safe or not.

Lastly, we should not stop at just child care. IU should develop support mechanisms for student-parents, working with them to make sure that child care emergencies such as illness doesn’t force them to leave. 

Being a parent is hard, and being a student-parent doubly so. IU should do all that it can to make sure that it is a place where student-parents thrive. Warren’s bold proposals will get us one step closer to where we need to be, but it is up to us to continue this movement.

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