Our national policy is child neglect
Anya Kamenetz on what Covid revealed about America's paltry social infrastructure for families, how white feminism undercut a meaningful welfare state, and why this may be a new "New Deal" moment
By Anya Kamenetz
The pandemic was a disaster for children and the people who take care of them.
Enumerating all the different facets of this disaster would take a book. Which is why I wrote a book.
But in this particular dark moment, with forced birth on the rise, I want to focus on one aspect of the disaster: the collapse of childcare, which drove mothers, in particular, out of the workforce, and to the end of their ropes.
Starting in March 2020, almost every school and afterschool program shut down, a large chunk of childcare centers closed, and extended family were less available because of COVID exposure worries. Parents ran out of options. Or, to put matters another way, even upper-middle-class families were suddenly staring into the abyss of care that less wealthy parents had been dealing with all along.
More than two years later, employment in the childcare sector is still down, and mothers are still struggling to combine paid work with caregiving.
The problem is this. The United States makes no effort to provide for childcare as the essential economic infrastructure that it is. The average wealthy nation spends around $14,000 a year in public funds for each toddler's care. America spends less than $500.
“It’s a disastrous system, if you even want to call it a system. It’s awful for children. We need revolutionary change,” according to Kimberly Morgan, a political scientist at George Washington University. That’s a view shared by every single person I talked to who knows anything about childcare.
Other rich countries have guaranteed paid family leave, childcare subsidies directly to families, and publicly funded childcare. The U.S., as sociologist Jess Calarco puts it, has mothers.
The major culprits are clear. Christianized patriarchy. Capitalism. Anti-immigrant sentiment and racism.
But since I’m an affluent, educated white woman who identifies as a feminist, I have to call my own people in, too. For centuries, well-meaning women a lot like me have been failing to build feminist solidarity across class and race boundaries. Instead, they’ve bought into capitalist, individualist, white power structures. To fight for the policy infrastructure we need, we need a different kind of feminism.
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