Still searching for the perfect Mother’s Day gift?

It’s mothers who are getting all the attention today, thanks to Anna Jarvis, who founded Mother’s Day in 1908.

Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as an intimate occasion — an opportunity for children to honor their mother — and strenuously objected to its rapid commercialization. She later dismissed the holiday, lobbying the government to remove it from the calendar.

For all the flowers and sweets and greeting cards sold, I know what moms really want this Mother’s Day — especially working moms, with kids of a certain age: high-quality, affordable and convenient child care.

A story by Kristen Taketa in Tuesday’s Union-Tribune paints a bleak picture: There are only enough licensed child care spots in San Diego County to half cover the number of children here. And for many, the spots that are available are unaffordable: typically, $12,900 to $19,500 a year per child, depending on their age. The data is part of a recent study by researchers at the University of San Diego, sponsored by the San Diego Foundation.

Online child care resource Tootris casts the lack of affordability in a different light. In San Diego, the cost of care for infants (age 2 and under) is 21 percent of median monthly income. That’s for just one kid. The US Department of Health and Human Services has set 7 percent of income or less than the affordability threshold.

The pandemic exacerbated what was already a challenging situation. Frontline workers in need of care for their children couldn’t find or afford it, as many providers closed their doors. They shifted their schedules to care for their children, or dropped out of the workforce altogether, stressing household incomes. Moms who had the option of working from home also left the labor force, finding it untenable to hold the equivalent of two full-time jobs.

Post-pandemic, problems persist. The child care industry has shrunk, with 16,000 programs and 131,000 jobs lost. Hiring is difficult in the current labor market because of low wages. The USD study found that the median annual wage for child care workers in our region was $29,289 in 2020 — about $14 an hour. Target announced last week that it is raising its starting wage for workers in some positions to $24 an hour.

The benefits of pre-kindergarten programs for child development are well established. As a society, we gain from investments made in children before they go to school. In a divided system — where quality child care is accessible only to affluent families — achievement gaps are inevitable and difficult to reverse.

You may be surprised to learn that the United States contributes just $500 per year for a toddler’s care; In other wealthy nations, the average contribution is $14,000 annually. And you may wonder, as I do: Why are we content to be an outlier when it comes to investing in children — our future?

Even in 2022, we’re not sure that mothers should work in the first place. The adage “a woman’s place is in the home” still resonates loudly. Our resistance to outsourcing child care isn’t about economics, it’s about preserving the traditional family.

The fact is, in two-thirds of American families, both parents work. Solving the child care dilemma must be a priority. In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently made child care free for most families. She also announced a $10 million investment to improve accessibility and a grant program for child care workers seeking to further their education.

But it’s not just a government matter. Employers must be part of the solution and provide greater support for working families. In a competitive job market, it can make a real difference in attracting and retaining employees. It also affects productivity: With the knowledge that their child is well cared for, it’s easier for a mom (or dad) to focus on their work.

The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation offers a range of options for employers in their “Essential Care for Essential Workers” executive briefing. One “quick win” they suggest is creating work schedules that are stable and predictable but also flexible, so parents can drop off and pick up kids from school or day care. Internal investments might include the issuance of vouchers or subsidies to help working parents offset child care costs; access to backup care to accommodate last-minute needs; or establishment of an onsite child care center.

When we recognize there’s a problem, we can begin to solve it. Let’s embrace the idea that high-quality, affordable child care is beneficial for everyone and find solutions that align with the realities of everyday life. It’s the gift that moms and families so richly deserve.

Dinkin is president of the National Conflict Resolution Center, a San Diego-based group working to create solutions to challenging issues, including intolerance and incivility. To learn about NCRC’s programming, visit ncrconline.com

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