Piecing it Together: Childcare Struggles and Economic Justice for Women

Piecing it Together: Childcare Struggles and Economic Justice for Women June 11, 2018

One minute, it’s the last week of school. There is something extra special and important happening every day, endless details and events to track, the kids are exhausted and emotionally overwrought, and you have only one thought in your head: is it summer yet??

And then the next thing you know, it’s the third week of summer break and you are wondering what you are supposed to DO with these children for the many weeks until school starts again NOT THAT I’M COUNTING.

I’m kidding. Mostly. My kids are wonderful and I love having them around. But also, I work full-time and our summer schedule is an exercise in slightly-controlled chaos. Between weeks we are traveling; the times I’m out of town for meetings; and the kids’ own church activities, like camp and VBS; it doesn’t make sense to book them in full time childcare programs for the summer. All of those gigs charge you for the full week (or the full summer!) whether you use it or not. So I do what most working parents do in the summer… piece it together.

As stressful as some of our busier summer weeks can be, I recognize that I have it easier than most, on many fronts. 1) Ministry can feel like you are “on” 24/7, but at the same time, it affords a flexible schedule in some seasons. I can work from home some days. I can take my kids to church with me, where they play outside or read and draw while I work in the office. And, if need be, I can work on things at midnight or 6am. Bourbon and caffeine, respectively, are my administrative assistants at those hours.  2) I have a network of friends and neighbors who can help me in a pinch, like when I need to make hospital visits or have meetings at weird times. Furthermore, I can afford a sitter when I need one. 3) My spouse was a full-time stay home parent for 5 years when the kids were tiny and this kind of “work” arrangement would have been impossible. Babies and toddlers can’t quite self-regulate like older kids can. And 4) When said spouse went back to work, he found a job with a regular schedule so that I can plan my evening meetings and church activities knowing when he will be home. (This was not working when he was in the hospitality world. We found you cannot run a church and a hotel from the same household while also raising kids. Unless you want to make a TV dramedy of your life, in which case, go for it. There’s an Emmy waiting for you.)

All that is to say–while I may feel frazzled some days, my life works and my work happens. But each of those factors is a point of privilege, and I’m aware of how much more difficult it is for most working parents. When I was writing my book last summer (mostly at crazy hours, or at home while my kids played outside or watched tv) I did some research on poverty and workplace equality. As I’m sure can guess, or may know from experience, one of the biggest struggles for most American families is finding affordable, quality childcare. Best as I can tell, it is also one of the biggest remaining hurdles to women’s equality in the workplace.

Consider this: more than 47% of the American workforce is female. But women still earn about 80-cents on the dollar to what a man makes in the same field.

Also consider that most of corporate America still operates on the myth that every family has a full-time parent at home; when in fact that reality only exists for about 14% of (mostly upper class) American households. Furthermore, while 13 million American families are single-parent households–wait for it– 80% of those single parents are single mothers.

Factor in, also: the jobs that provide the most flexibility (like the one that I have) are the jobs that typically require the most education. If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher, you’re more likely to either be self-employed/own your own company, or, be the boss and set your own schedule; or have work that can be taken offsite, AND, the devices and connectivity to do your work from elsewhere. (Like backstage at a dance recital, which is definitely where I wrote most of my sermon last week). But a large number of working women in America are working in low-wage industries like hospitality, food service and–ironically–childcare. And of course, the lowest paying jobs are usually the least flexible–clock in, clock out, get paid by the hour.

The bottom line is: women are working harder than ever, but for less money, and with less support. In many ways, our culture is still overtly hostile to working women.

Access to quality childcare is a major economic justice issue; and a significant part of any conversation about gender equality. When we think about how to end the cycles of poverty, we can’t overlook the disastrous equation of rising childcare costs + wages that haven’t budged in decades. Furthermore, the complexity of public safety net programs boggles the mind. You can’t qualify for assistance like food stamps and subsidized housing if you make TOO much money; but you still have to make a living; but you can’t go to work at all if you don’t have childcare; but you have to make enough at your job to afford childcare, but then you might lose your other benefits…it goes around like that.

How do we expect people to survive with so many cards are stacked against them? And miss me with any sanctimonious “They shouldn’t have kids then” diatribes.  Seems that line of reasoning often comes from the same corners who don’t want to provide sex ed or birth control, but maybe that’s a chat for another day…

With the Poor People’s Campaign gaining traction in many parts of the country, the is right to think deeply about these issues.  If we really want to end poverty, we have to dig it up from the roots. That means dealing with matters of gender equality. Empower women = save the world.

There are many potential solutions to this particular void in the system. For one thing, our legislators should be addressing the wage gap, full stop. There’s no excuse not to. Communities could also be working together creatively to form things like affordable parks and rec programs, childcare subsidies and co-ops. More employers could be exploring flex-time and remote work options. And this is just scratching the surface of all the ways we could be making life easier–not harder–for working women and families.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here counting all the ways my life could be much, much harder, and maybe also counting the weeks til school starts (9). But mostly, I’ll be giving thanks for the village that makes this parenting gig manageable in every season.

Read more about gender equality and economic justice issues in Resist and Persist: Faith and the Fight for Equality.

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