child care

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The United States cannot put its economy in order unless it invests in child care

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2020 - 4:30am in

By failing to invest in child care, the U.S. government is placing mothers in an impossible position.

Ashley Patrick was thrilled to land a full-time position at a prestigious publishing house in July 2016. The job came with smart, bookish colleagues, opportunities for advancement, a regular salary, and health insurance. For a Brooklyn-based writer and editor, it was a rare and valuable opportunity.

At the time she had two young sons, a husband who also worked full-time, and no flexibility. By the end of 2018, Patrick and her husband had three children. The combined monthly cost of full-time daycare for the baby and after-school programs for the boys was an unaffordable minimum of $3,250. In February 2019 she made the painful decision to leave her job.

“A big part of my decision to leave was the cost of child care,” Patrick told me in a recent phone conversation. “Which was a great disappointment because I was on an upward trajectory in the company.” She had been promoted shortly before the birth of her youngest and was on track for another promotion in the next year and a half. Getting that second promotion “would have made a big difference in terms of mobility from one publishing house to another.”

The kids are now nine, seven, and 18 months old. Patrick has managed to carve out a thriving freelance business, but, with schools and daycares closed due to the pandemic, she is now trying to work and supervise her boys’ online lessons from her small apartment. Her husband, who had been earning a good salary at a major company, was laid off eight months after she quit her own job—in part, Patrick suspects, because he took the family leave he was entitled to when their third child was born. She does not know what they’ll do when schools reopen—there is still no ideal option for the baby, and the boys attend schools in different neighborhoods with different start times, making pick-up and drop-off complicated and time-consuming.

Patrick and her family are hardly alone in finding the demands of child care and full-time employment increasingly unmanageable.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), there are only four countries in the world where couples with young children who earn the average wage spend more than 30 percent of their salary on child care: New Zealand, the U.K., Australia, and the United States. In Korea, Austria, Greece, and Hungary, the average couple spends less than four percent of their income on child care. Mothers in Sweden, France, and Canada report being satisfied with the overall quality, availability, and cost of child care in those countries, all of which have government-run or heavily subsidized child care systems.

Erika Gubrium, a professor at Oslo Metropolitan University who has two sons, ages eight and 11, explained in response to questions sent by email that child care in Norway is offered through a mix of public and private day cares partially subsidized by the state. The cost of a full-time spot at a daycare in Oslo is approximately 3,100 Norwegian krone per month (around $302 USD). Some families pay reduced fees if they earn less and in some areas, day care is completely free for children of certain ages. In Gubrium’s words, “There is NO opposition to government funding of child care, as there is strong sentiment across the political board that the state should support measures that enable both parents to work full-time.”

When child care is consistent, affordable, and easy to access, more women work outside of the home. Quebec’s government-subsidized child care program led to a workforce participation rate of 85 percent for women ages 26 to 44—the highest in the world, according to University of Quebec at Montreal economist Pierre Fortin. The increased tax revenue covers more than 100 percent of what the government spends on child care. “In other words, it costs zero, or the cost is negative,” Fortin told CityLab in 2018. The program also saves money by reducing the number of families on public assistance.

Hannah Selinger, a freelance writer in East Hampton, New York, has two sons, ages three and one-and-a-half. Finding convenient child care for both, she said in a phone interview, has been a “nightmare.” She quit her well-paid job to be a stay-at-home mother when she became pregnant with her first child because her partner’s salary was double what she made. Since then her freelance writing career has taken off, requiring more of her time, but the logistics of child care are making that nearly impossible. The fee for her eldest son’s preschool is $12,000 per year for three half days per week, and it’s a 30-minute drive from her home, meaning she spends six hours per week driving him (and his little brother) there and back.

Carolina Gonzalez-Villar lives in California’s Bay Area with her husband and their four-year-old son. Her father, who is retired, took care of her son until he was 18 months old. Without her father, she said, her family would have had to bear the expense of a nanny. She and her husband decided they couldn’t afford another child, given that child care where they live costs up to $2,500 per month.

A shorter workweek would reduce both child care costs and parental stress. “We have doubled productivity since the 1960s; there is no reason we shouldn’t make the same money or better and work fewer hours,” said Erin Mahoney, who lives in Queens with her 2-year-old child. Mahoney described the search for child care as one of the most stressful parts of her pregnancy. “A month before my maternity leave ended, I was still trying to figure it out.”

The burden of navigating America’s patchwork child care system falls disproportionately on mothers. Ashley Patrick recently wrote on Facebook, in response to a comment about child care centers refusing to disclose their fees until parents have scheduled a tour, “The last thing I wanted to be doing while uncomfortably pregnant and frantically prepping at work for maternity leave and scheduling and attending a zillion doctor’s appointments was making still more phone calls and sending more emails to check tuition fees.”

Liz Grefath, a mother of two young sons who lives in Brooklyn, recently wrote on Facebook that “people use words like ‘challenge’ to describe [the search for adequate child care] but that is such a neutral word.” What most U.S. parents are really engaged in, she added, is “all-out scavenging, plotting, and survivalism.”Another problem with the U.S. system is that child care providers and preschool teachers are among the worst-paid workers in America. As of 2018, 58 percent of child care workers in California were paid so little that they qualified for public assistance. Some cannot afford to have children of their own.

“One thing I find really frustrating about child care is that it’s almost prohibitively expensive for parents yet the teachers are paid close to minimum wage,” Arielle Harrison recently wrote on Facebook. Harrison, who lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two young sons, continued: “I don’t see how the economics work without some form of government subsidy.”

The U.S. provides limited subsidies to low-income families, she acknowledged, but providers are still grossly underpaid.

Historically, the U.S. government has found the money for child care when it needed women to work. President Franklin Roosevelt used funds from a wartime infrastructure bill to establish a national network of child care centers for women who took factory jobs to support the war effort (remember Rosie the Riveter?). The centers were shut down under the Truman administration, despite a battle waged by mothers, social welfare groups, unions, early childhood educators and social workers to keep them open. That was the last time the United States offered universal child care.

In May 1971, two New York congresswomen—Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn and Bella Abzug of Manhattan—introduced a bill that would have set aside billions of dollars in federal funds for child care. A watered-down version eventually passed the House and the Senate, only to be vetoed by Nixon, on the advice of his special assistant Pat Buchanan. Nixon described the bill as “radical,” “family-weakening” and tantamount to endorsing “communal” childrearing as opposed to “the family-centered approach.”

Jen Sunderland, a child care provider and mother of a 14-year-old in New York City, pointed out in a phone conversation that the U.S.’s “family-centered approach” is the problem. Instead of acknowledging that the entire society benefits when children are well cared for, our system places “all of the burden of that work on individual families.”

For women, child care decisions are inextricably tied to stagnant wages and unequal pay. The majority of mothers who “choose” the work of childrearing over a paying job do so because they would earn less or only marginally more than they would have to spend on child care if they worked.

The situation is even more dire for single parents. Nearly a quarter of U.S. children live in single-parent households, the vast majority of which are headed by women. Single parents earning an average wage spend 52.7 percent of their income on child care, which surely contributes to the fact that 30 percent of single mothers live below the poverty line.

Child care was a campaign issue in the 2020 presidential election cycle for the first time since the 1970s. Elizabeth Warren was the first to unveil a plan; Bernie Sanders’ plan was the most comprehensive. Joe Biden has not presented one. Earlier in 2020, he told Fortune that, under a Biden administration, children will be able to attend “high-quality, universal prekindergarten at no cost” and parents “will get up to $8,000 in tax credits” to offset child care costs. In 2016 the Center for American Progress, which advised Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, recommended offering child care tax credits of up to $14,000 per child.

The pandemic has brought the U.S.’s deepening child care crisis into even sharper relief. Daycares are closed and many schools will not reopen until the fall. Millions of parents are now either seeking work or attempting to hold onto their jobs while caring full-time for young children. In states where businesses are reopening, many now face a choice between returning to work and leaving their kids who knows where, or staying at home with their kids and losing their jobs or part of their income.

In a 1981 op-ed headlined “Congress is Subsidizing Deterioration of Family,” Joe Biden argued against expanding a child care tax credit to include families with higher incomes and labeled day care centers and nursing homes “monuments to our growing unwillingness to accept personal responsibility for those to whom we owe the most.”A lot has changed since 1981. What hasn’t changed is the need for the government to treat child care as a social responsibility, not a personal one.

Whatever happens in November, the U.S. will almost certainly end up with either a President Trump, who has agreed to spend more on child care block grants for low-income families and doubled the federal child tax credit to $2,000, or a President Biden, who has talked about “making sure that every single solitary person needing child care gets an $8,000 tax credit.” The average American family spends nearly $15,000 a year on child care.“We dread the idea that our day care might not come back from [the pandemic],” Josef Szende, who grew up in Canada and lives in New York City with his wife and their 15-month-old son, told me via Zoom. “We don’t know what we would do…we’d move from that lucky whatever percent who somehow made it work in New York City into the majority for whom it’s not working.”

Congress voted to invest billions in child care nearly 50 years ago. It’s past time to make good on that promise.

The post The United States cannot put its economy in order unless it invests in child care appeared first on The Conversationalist.

Ten things to know about poverty measurement in Canada

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/11/2019 - 9:27am in

I’ve written a blog post providing an overview of poverty measurement in Canada. Points raised in the post include the following:

-One’s choice of poverty measure has a major impact on whether poverty is seen to be increasing or decreasing over time.

-Canada’s federal government recently chose the make the Market Basket Measure (MBM) its official poverty measure.

-According to the MBM, Canada has seen a major decrease in poverty over the past decade.

-Also according to the MBM, there is very little seniors’ poverty in Canada.

-The debate about poverty measurement in Canada has largely ignored the concept of asset poverty.

The link to the blog post is here.

Ten things to know about this year’s Alberta Alternative Budget

The Alberta Alternative Budget (AAB) is an annual exercise whose working group consists of researchers, economists, and members of civil society (full disclosure: I’m the Editor). Our general mandate is to create a progressive vision for Alberta to boost economic growth and reduce income inequality. This year’s document was released today, and here are 10 things to know:

  1. The NDP government of Rachel Notley government made important advances with respect to childcare, but much remains to be done. Specifically, the Notley government introduced a $25/day childcare pilot project and increased the provincial childcare budget by 27% since taking office. However, gender equality and women’s labour market participation in Alberta could be improved even further with universal childcare. This year’s AAB proposes that important steps be taken to get that done by investing an additional $1.65 billion in childcare over the next year.
  2. More than 80% of Alberta’s Kindergarten through Grade 3 classes currently exceed the provincial government’s own class size targets. What’s more, almost half of the province’s Grade 4 through Grade 12 classes exceed the government’s class size targets. And in high schools across the province, roughly half of all core subject classes exceed the Alberta Commission on Learning (ACOL) targets set in 2003. The AAB therefore recommends substantial increases in spending on k-12 education while also recommending that Alberta’s provincial government reduce funding for private schools (which are currently subsidized at higher rates than those in any other province).
  3. When it comes to gender and public policy, Alberta has a long way to go. Women in Alberta face the largest employment gender gap of any province. They are over-represented in lower-paying careers and their hourly pay for full-time work is only 80 cents on a man’s dollar. Further, Alberta lacks pay equity legislation. The AAB recommends that the annual budget of Alberta’s Ministry for Status of Women be increased by 30%, and that the provincial government create a pay equity task force to both investigate the reasons and propose solutions for the large gender pay gaps across industries and occupations in the province.
  4. There are nearly 6,000 reported cases of wage theft (i.e., unpaid wages) in Alberta each year. Further, in 2017/18, only 41% of wage-theft complaints were resolved within 180 days. And it’s generally accepted that formal wage-theft claims represent a small fraction of all instances of wage theft. The AAB therefore proposes that 75 additional employment standards officers be hired in the province, in order to prevent and remedy wage theft.
  5. One in 5 Alberta workers will be injured on the job this year; one in 11 seriously. This year’s AAB will therefore invest an additional $70 million in enforcement of Alberta’s occupational health and safety laws in order to make workplaces safer.
  6. Tuition fees as a share of university operating revenue have roughly tripled in Alberta over the last 30 years. The Notley government did freeze tuition fees in 2015, and recently introduced legislation that would tie tuition fee increases to inflation; but those measures alone don’t cut it. The AAB proposes a five-year ‘phase out’ of tuition fees, starting with a 20% reduction in tuition fees for all post-secondary students, including international students.
  7. Alberta still has, by far, the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of any province. Alberta’s net debt-to-GDP ratio for 2018-19 is projected to be 6.5%. The next lowest is British Columbia’s, which stands at 15.2%. Though Alberta’s net debt-to-GDP ratio has risen quite quickly since the slump in oil prices, it’s hard to make the claim that the province is living beyond its means.
  8. Albertans collectively are taxed less than residents of any other province. According to Alberta Treasury Board and Finance, if Alberta’s provincial government adopted a tax structures similar to the next lowest-taxed province in the country (British Columbia), Alberta would generate an additional $8.7 billion in annual revenue.
  9. Alberta remains the only Canadian province without a provincial sales tax. The AAB Working Group estimates that the implementation of a 5% provincial sales tax in Alberta would generate approximately $5 billion in new revenue annually. What’s more, even after the implementation of this tax, Alberta would remain Canada’s lowest-taxed province!
  10. This year’s AAB further proposes that a new provincial sales tax be harmonized with the federal Goods and Services tax. The federal government already collects a 5% sales tax in the form of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Following the lead of several other provinces, we propose that Alberta introduce a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which would allow the province to generate its own share of the revenue collected by the federal GST. Introducing a 5% provincial portion of a HST would still leave Alberta with a combined HST of 10%.

In Sum. In addition to providing a costed-out public policy alternative to the status quo in Alberta, each AAB chapter also provides a primer on the public policy topic in question. I think the document makes for excellent reading for researchers, educators, students and non-profit leaders. The media release, along with a link to the full document, can be found here.

MEDIA RELEASE: Alberta should increase social spending; cuts are not the way to go

(June 24, 2019-Calgary) With Alberta’s economy still facing challenges and vulnerabilities, the Alberta government should not be doling out tax cuts or cutting social spending, according to the Alberta Alternative Budget (AAB) released today.

“Alberta still has, by far, the lowest
debt-to-GDP ratio of any province,” says Nick Falvo, editor of the report. “We
are in a good position to increase spending on education, invest in affordable
child care, offer free dental care to Albertans under 18 years, and support
other programs that would help Albertans facing unpredictability in the job
market.”

The AAB is an annual exercise whose working
group consists of researchers, economists, and members of civil society. The
AAB  aims to create a progressive vision
for Alberta to boost economic growth and reduce income inequality.

Today’s report calls for the introduction
of a harmonized sales tax to reduce Alberta’s reliance on profit from energy
markets, that have always been volatile. Under the previous government,
important steps were taken to stabilize the economy through diversification and
social spending.

“The UCP government has already cut close
to $6 billion in provincial revenue by cancelling the carbon tax and cutting
corporate taxes, and this is the wrong direction,” says Falvo. “Instead,
investing in programs and infrastructure is what is needed to foster a vibrant
Alberta.”

Download the report.

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Contact: Nick Falvo, falvo.nicholas@gmail.com, 587-892-7855

What Impact will the 2019 Federal Budget have on Canada’s Housing Market?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/04/2019 - 1:54am in

I’ve written a blog post about what the recent federal budget means for Canada’s housing market.

Points I make in the blog post include the following:

-The budget contains several initiatives designed to make it easier for households of modest means to become homeowners.

-Such initiatives are often framed as being win-win propositions, while their unintended consequences are rarely discussed.

The link to the full blog post is here.

Low taxes are nothing to brag about

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/04/2019 - 4:42am in

I’ve written an opinion piece that appears in today’s Regina Leader-Post. The piece argues that the Saskatchewan government shouldn’t brag about the province’s low-tax climate (which it recently did). Rather, I argue that taxes serve important functions.

The link to the opinion piece is here.