By Ariama C. Long
Reliable access to childcare in New York City has always been a gamble, especially when COVID hit. The City Council passed legislation last week that takes aim at addressing systemic issues with childcare services and increasing support for Black and brown women workers.
According to a city economic report, in January 2021 an estimated 519,000 workers in the city were not working because they had to take care of a child at home. Many of whom are statistically women and women of color.
“Childcare remains one of the biggest challenges for working women and families across New York City,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams in a statement. “Expanding affordable, accessible, and high-quality childcare on a universal basis has always been a top priority for this Council. With the passage of this unprecedented legislative package, our city will help families get the care they need for their children while boosting our economy and recovery.”
Councilmember Crystal Hudson, a co-sponsor of the childcare bills, said that she is proud to work toward a universal childcare system in the city that can tangibly address the lingering effects of the pandemic felt disproportionately by women and women of color across the five boroughs. “Universal childcare will help narrow this persistent gap, ushering more women back into the workforce and ensuring parents do not have to choose between their families and their careers,” said Hudson in a statement.
A National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) study said that 22% of Black women across the U.S. lived in poverty between 2014 and 2018, even though they are “more likely than white women to be the primary breadwinners for their families.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, Black women and their families faced financial security in general as well as job shortages in the childcare industry, which also highly employs Black and brown workers. A NWLC survey in May 2021 later showed that the median annual earnings of working Black mothers in New York was $40,700 compared to the $75,000 median annual earnings of white and non Hispanic fathers.
NWLC’s recommendation to support financially stressed Black women is to expand access to affordable, high quality childcare, which could increase their income and lifetime savings.
The extensive package of childcare bills passed by city council would do just that. It requires various initiatives, including a report on how to support working mothers and caregivers, a childcare task force and advisory board, a directory of childcare programs in the city, a grant pilot program to boost accessibility, and financial assistance to families and childcare providers.
“Women who leave the workforce to care for their children will lose more than $480k in their lifetime, money families desperately need. New York City is in the midst of a childcare crisis, which means that women and caregivers are experiencing an economic crisis,” said Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez, who also sponsored one of the bills.
Gutiérrez said that the bills will not solve all of the problems parents and providers face today, but it’s a step towards the city realizing a long held vision of universal childcare.
Wonderschool CEO and Founder Chris Bennett is a huge proponent of universal childcare and universal pre-K as the beginning ring in the step ladder to higher education for underserved communities. He said that there’s a shortage of childcare facilities and slots for children, and that many home-based childcare providers, smaller and usually run out of private homes, struggle to access necessary funding due to regulations.
“A lot of the policies are made for center-based programs. They were designed for those,” said Bennett. “Home-based programs tend to serve Black and brown communities. And the ultimate goal is so that they can access universal pre-K funds so that they’re able to better serve Black and brown children.”
Because of a lack of funding, home-based providers can’t administer universal pre-K. Bennett considers universal pre-K crucial to shaping the minds of impressionable children under the age of five. “If they’re being raised in an environment that’s loving, providing the right social emotional support around other children, then they’re set up to be able to do that later on in life,” said Bennett. “Children who don’t get access to it, it stunts them. Children who don’t get access to it have worse health outcomes, less likely to be employed later on.”
Committee for Hispanic Children & Families President & CEO Ramon Peguero, Esq. said that universal childcare programs must meet family needs, including different modality options in their community, programs that speak their language and reflect their culture, those that offer mixed-age settings, and those that offer non-traditional hours of care.
“The pandemic taught us that access to childcare is essential to a healthy and prosperous economy,” said Peguero. “This is especially true for Black and brown communities working in sectors that don’t afford the privilege of virtual work, and are often forced to choose between caring for their children and having a job. Childcare ensures a stable workforce, the bedrock for a thriving economy.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w