High Quality Childcare and Early Childhood Education Should be at Top of Feminist Agenda
Sheryl Sandberg exhorts women to “lean in” and “close the ambition gap”, but it’s unlikely to happen as long as working mothers are left with sub-par options regarding the care and education of their young children.More than seven out of ten American women with children under 18 are in the labor force. A tiny percentage of those mothers—those with high incomes— can afford well-educated nannies, excellent day care, and topnotch nursery schools. Another very small percentage—mostly professional women—have the ability to set their own schedules and work from home.But the vast majority of working mothers don’t have choices about when or where they work, and even more critically, they don’t have access to high-quality child care. Instead, they are forced to leave their 0 to 4 year-old children with babysitters or day-care operators who generally aren’t providing these children with the stimulating, enriching environments that their fast-developing brains need.Child development experts have produced tons of research showing that a child’s environment in his or her earliest years, particularly up through three when brain development reaches its peak, can have effects that last a lifetime.Yet our country is investing paltry amounts in our youngest children. James Heckman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, recently shared a chart showing that among 32 industrialized nations, the United States ranks next to last on what it spends on early childhood care and education.This has to change. First, because the future of America’s children depends on it. Second, and just as importantly, because America’s working mothers won’t be able to succeed at having robust careers and flourishing families unless they have much better childcare options for their young children. Right now, in the struggle to achieve a good balance between family and career, women too often are finding that both their children and their jobs are losing out.I believe this problem won’t be solved until federal and state governments in this country (1) assure that all families have access to affordable, high quality child care for children ages zero to three and (2) provide every three and four year-old child with free, first-rate preschool education. Unfortunately, in the current political and economic climate, these things are far from happening. But the push for change needs to start now, so I hope these two policy initiatives move to the top of the feminist agenda.