One of the most popular new shows on Netflix, “Maid,” has attracted millions of viewers and sparked a conversation about the bureaucracy and inefficiency of America’s social safety net, specifically regarding child care.
The show is inspired by a best-selling memoir by Stephanie Land. The ten-episode series chronicles the experience of a single mom, Alex, who tries to leave an emotionally abusive relationship and faces the realities of surviving on her own with her three-year-old daughter. Without savings or a job, Alex applies for government assistance programs to support herself and her daughter. However, this is not an easy fix to her problems. In one of the earliest scenes of the show, Alex speaks to a social worker about how it is difficult to find a job because she does not have child care for her daughter. The social worker explains that the system requires that people have a job before they can qualify for subsidized child care. However, Alex quickly points out the absurdity of this situation: “I need a job to prove that I need daycare in order to get a job?” This catch-22 exemplifies the critical issue with child care access in America.
Throughout the show, Alex struggles to balance the job she eventually does get as a maid with her responsibilities as a mother. She is often faced with the choice of missing shifts at work or sending her daughter to stay with unstable relatives. Even once she is able to enroll her daughter in daycare there are still additional costs not covered by her child care grant.
The struggles of balancing motherhood and work that this show displays are an important reminder of why the United States absolutely needs to pass universal pre-K and universal child care.
The cost of child care in America is extremely high. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies found that the average cost of preschool ranges from $4,460 to $13,158 a year. For many families, the price of child care is so cost-prohibitive that one parent, often the mother, is forced to stay home.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified the issue of women having to leave the workforce due to a lack of child care options. As schools and daycares closed, many women were forced to quit their jobs to take care of their children. In spring 2020, during the height of COVID-19, 3.5 million working mothers left the workforce to care for their school-age children. Even as the economy has improved with the nationwide re-opening, many women are still not able to re-enter the workforce due to the lack of access to child care.
While COVID-19 has brought the issue of child care complications into the national conversation, this is something that has impacted low-income families for decades. The lack of safe, affordable and accessible child care options is extremely prohibitive to people who are trying to find work.
One of the most effective and concrete ways to address these issues is through the expansion of universal Pre-K programs.
Thankfully, President Biden has proposed a universal child care program in his American Families Plan. He has proposed a $200 billion dollar investment into universal pre-K programs in conjunction with state governments. It is expected that this bill could save families an average of $13,000 on child care expenses. With greater access to affordable quality preschool, more parents, especially women, will have the opportunity to reenter the workforce. This is especially important right now as many businesses face staffing shortages. While this may seem like a very costly program, it actually pays for itself and then some. Studies show that every dollar invested in early childhood education reaps a return of $7.30. Congress would be insane to not pass the bill on cost alone.
Universal preschool has benefits beyond allowing parents to work. Pre-K also provides an important educational foundation for children that will prepare them for success in later life. Research has shown that children who attend pre-K are more prepared for kindergarten and have better academic outcomes in the future.
The deck is stacked against far too many families. Without access to child care, many parents are unable to work and support their families. Establishing a universal pre-K program is one of the most effective tools to ensure that parents can support their children and guarantee their access to vital educational services.
Isabelle Schindler is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.