The New York Times asks today whether Andrew Yang is New York enough to run for mayor of New York City, the city where he has lived for 24 years. In what is intended as a “gotcha” regarding said bonafides, the article highlights that Yang “has not remained in New York full time” since the beginning of the pandemic, having spent more time upstate. “We live in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan,” he told the Times. “And so, like, can you imagine trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment, and then trying to do work yourself?” To which the majority of the country replied: Ha-ha, hahahahahahahaha. And then promptly began weeping.
Plenty of Americans are doing more than just imagining such a scenario. They are living it, and have been living it, for ten months now.
The true “gotcha” in Yang’s remark has little to do with New York City and everything to do with childcare. His comment is a sobering reality check about the alternate realities, permissions, and escapes afforded to privileged parents in general, but also specifically to the politicians upon whom parents look for relief from this national childcare nightmare. These are the same alternate realities, permissions, and escapes afforded pre-pandemic, which have helped enable our so-called childcare system, which is really just a patchwork of imperfect individual compromises and solutions.
These workarounds—in which family resources determine children’s access to quality early care, as well as parents’ access to support—are the fundamental ethos of childcare in this country. The barely fathomable horrors of childcare are regarded first and foremost as a personal problem to be solved rather than a systemic one to be remedied by government. This approach has become absurdly evident in the pandemic push among the exceptionally privileged for private tutors, pods, and micro-schools, but it was there all the same before covid-19. The pandemic has just severely limited—and shifted—the individualized solutions previously available to middle- and upper-class, and especially white families.
I don’t mean to heap all of this at Yang’s feet. He supports universal childcare, after all. (Granted, his proposal pales in comparison to those of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and even Joe Biden, and Yang does have a habit of conflating women’s work with childcare.) Also, his oldest son is special needs, which can introduce specific childcare challenges within the pandemic, as many families are experiencing. But his remark is a perfect reflection of the individualistic approach to childcare in this country. Individual workarounds take pressure off the system—and they also take the pressure off the politicians charged with creating the system. It helps solidify yawning disparities where the most everyday experiences of parenthood are seen as nearly unfathomable to the most privileged, especially those in critical positions of power and influence.
If politicians did more than just imagine the most untenable, and yet deeply common, experiences of parenthood, then maybe the United States would have universal childcare by now.