When we talk about the concept of women’s liberation, the conversation often centers around burning bras, shattering glass ceilings, providing the full range of reproductive freedoms, and women no longer allowing men to dictate the conditions of their existence. But there are other ideas that are even more revolutionary than these, and they aren’t what you might think.
Recently, Elizabeth Warren, a candidate running for president in 2020, floated the idea of universal childcare, and it shook the ground beneath my feet in a way that very few policy proposals have done. This is mostly because I understood how much of a game changer a program like this could be for the everyday American female.
Reproductive freedom and the refusal to allow men to continue to control how much women are able to achieve in their personal and professional lives are all extremely important to a woman’s overall autonomy. However, they don’t address a large part of the problem women face when attempting to fully actualize their potential. Since women are the ones biologically responsible for birthing children as well as the ones society still pegs as the primary caregivers, childcare remains a persistent obstacle that so many — especially single mothers, women of color, and women of all races living just above or in poverty — cannot overcome. The cost of childcare is outrageous, oftentimes more than what a woman would earn actually working a 40 hour per week job. The exorbitant cost also keeps women from pursuing higher education or technical programs that could lead to jobs that pay more competitive wages.
When we normally talk about strategies to lift folks out of poverty and into higher wage careers, we always hit on incentives and programs to increase access to education and job training. If the conversation focuses on women, we might also mention access to comprehensive healthcare, inclusive of contraception, in order to provide her with more control over when and if she has children. But once the woman has already had children, family planning, education, and job training are often a day late and several dollars short. What good is access to a wide range of programs if a mother can’t find anyone to take care of her child while she’s earning a degree or learning a skill that will drastically increase her earning potential? Removing that obstacle, that worry, would change everything for so many single mothers and working class families struggling to make ends meet.
Universal childcare is a big, bold idea. And, as with most big, bold ideas, we’re going to hear a lot of grumbling about how we pay for it. These concerns are valid, but it’s important to think of the drain on our economy created by so many individuals who are unable to rise to their full potential because they are drowning in poverty with no sturdy life raft in sight.
A program that offers universal childcare could be that life raft.
The country would reap the benefit of a more educated, more highly skilled, more productive population. We would see the wage and opportunity gap between men and women begin to narrow and finally, after centuries of systemic inequity, to close. Something as simple as providing childcare so women can pursue the same educational and professional opportunities already available to men could be revolutionary, and the return on investment would be beyond our wildest dreams.
**Original article published in Florida Today