In 1975, most American families had a dad bringing in the money and a mom taking care of the home. Today — as you may know from the repetitive wails of many a conservative pundit — only one in five fit that model. Around two-thirds of mothers of young children now work outside the home, and about 8.2 million kids — that's around 40 percent of children under five — spend at least part of the week with somebody who isn't their mother or father. Since the U.S. doesn't have an affordable child care system, that's a problem.
Jonathan Cohn's piece on what he calls the "Dickensian" hell of American daycare in The New Republic is worth reading in full, but here are some of the most terrifying statistics:
- A 2007 survey by the National Institute of Child Health Development found the majority of daycare operations to be “fair” or “poor” — only 10 percent provided high-quality care.
- Experts suggest a ratio of one caregiver for every three infants between six and 18 months, but only one-third of children are in set-ups that meet that standard.
- Depending on the state, some providers may need only minimal or no training in safety, health, or child development — Sue Lahmeyer, former district director of licensing for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, told Cohn that judges rarely shut down centers. "I can tell you there’s a fair number [of cases] that we lost because the judge decided, No child’s died yet, so they stay open,” she said.
- Daycare is more expensive than rent in 22 states; in California, the cost is equivalent to 40 percent of the median income for a single mother. The government offers very minimal assistance for poor families.
When parents can't afford legit daycare but need to send their kids somewhere so they can go to work, they'll take what they can get. Sometimes, as in the case of Kenya Mire, the struggling mother in Cohn's story, what they can get ends in unthinkable tragedy — or simply missed opportunities:
Kids who grow up in nurturing, interactive environments tend to develop the skills they need to thrive as adults—like learning how to calm down after a setback or how to focus on a problem long enough to solve it. Kids who grow up without that kind of attention tend to lack impulse control and have more emotional outbursts. Later on, they are more likely to struggle in school or with the law. They also have more physical health problems. Numerous studies show that all children, especially those from low-income homes, benefit greatly from sound child care. The key ingredients are quite simple—starting with plenty of caregivers, who ideally have some expertise in child development.
Will President Barack Obama's planned "universal kindergarten proposal" help? Will it even pass? "The United States has always been profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of supporting child care outside the home, for reasons that inevitably trace back to beliefs over the proper role of women and mothers," Cohn writes. "At no point has a well-organized public day care system ever been considered the social ideal."
Image via ypkim/Shutterstock.