Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: Treat child care like the essential service that it is

  • Lindsay Sabadosa FILE PHOTO

Published: 7/16/2020 3:25:54 PM

Workforce. Economic development. Marketable skills. Over the years, it feels like more and more buzzwords are created to make workers seem less human and to appear more like a faceless unit from which profit is derived at the lowest possible cost. CEOs and executives with long histories of increasing profit margins by driving down labor costs run for office, promising bare-bones budgets and lower taxes with talk of running the city, the state or the country like a business. Rarely, if ever, does this work because government is not a business. 

COVID-19 has made many of the things we already knew so much clearer. We have known that Massachusetts suffers from long-term wage stagnation, where the bottom 20% of households have seen an annual -0.2% decline in their household income between 1979-2014. (The median annual increase in household income in the state is 0.5% but jumps to a whopping 4.3% for the top 1%.) So, unsurprisingly, when people found themselves out of work after decades of policy that benefited big business and celebrated profit margins above good wages, people did not have savings to fall back on. This means missed rental or mortgage payments, increased debt and a rush to access the very few safety net programs that are available. Add to this the insidious role of racism and sexism in all policy making, and it is next to impossible to claim that our government is living up to the task of providing necessary services. In fact, expanding the number of those who are unhoused, unemployed and uninsured belies support for our economic system, one of government’s roles.  

There may be no greater example of how failed policy is crashing into our new COVID-induced reality than child care. Long a field dominated by women and people of color who are chronically underpaid, the voices of those who actually do the work have predominantly been left out of conversations about reopening. That is unsurprising as industry after industry has received top-down guidelines from the governor’s office — which makes unilateral decisions during the state of emergency — that may work for some but that do not take the nuance of reality into account.

Like many small businesses, early childhood education centers have found themselves subject to restrictions and guidelines that will make it impossible for many to reopen and next-to-impossible to be a sustainable business if they can. While some of these guidelines make good sense to protect the health of children, teachers and families, the lack of support from the government for increased cleaning and staff costs coupled with the loss of revenue from reduced class sizes will eventually lead to centers closing or raising tuition. Already, capacity restrictions mean that not all families who previously had a spot for their child will still have one in the fall, if those families are lucky enough to still be able to afford it given the current unemployment rates.

Some may say that this is simply how our capitalist society works, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Already, our Main Street is showing signs of businesses buckling under months of COVID followed by years of policy that supports corporations but does little for the micro-businesses that make our community a place where we want to live. Every closure is devastating and has ripple effects. The economic inviability and closure of our child care centers, however, will be worse, because child care is essential and critical to allowing every other sector of our economy to work. No one can work unless our children are cared for, and yet the discussion about child care was not part of Phase 1. It was not at the forefront at all and still is not, despite the fact that we do not live in a world where there is always an adult at home during the day.

It makes me wonder what the message is. At a time of economic upheaval, is the message from the governor’s office that one parent should just stay home and single parents shouldn’t work at all? Is the message that centers should just charge more so that only the wealthy can afford to send their kids to day care? Or is it that early childhood education — the place where our kids learn grace and courtesy along with skills that set them up to be successful learners for the rest of their lives — just aren’t that important?

Whatever it is, it is time to change course. Child care is essential, there is no reopening without it, and our children certainly deserve better.

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the state representative for the 1st Hampshire District. She can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.



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